Should Low-Risk MRSA Patients be Screened?

In an Oct. 8 guest editorial in the British Medical Journal, Michael Millar, a consultant microbiologist in the Department of Infection at The London NHS Trust, asks, “Should we screen low-risk patients for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus?” Millar asserts that a Department of Health policy requiring all hospital patients to be screened for MRSA breaches ethical guidelines.

Millar explains that since April 2009, all patients electively admitted to hospitals in Britain must be screened for MRSA, and this requirement will be extended to emergency admissions from next year. Millar notes, “Although the policy is presented as a population screening program, most people who are screened will gain little benefit and may be harmed. The justification for universal screening is therefore unclear.”

Millar says that the Department of Health “has taken increasingly stringent measures since 2001 to reduce the burden of infection associated with MRSA. The measures seem to have been successful, with the numbers of MRSA bloodstream infections falling by more than half from 2003 to 2008. However, the overall numbers of healthcare associated infections reported to the English Health Protection Agency rose substantially, raising questions about the focus on MRSA.”

Reference: BMJ 2009;339:b4035