VA Infection Control Practices Featured in New England Journal of Medicine

A Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) initiative that reduced the global healthcare issue of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections by more than 60 percent in intensive care units (ICU) across the nation is featured in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. It reports data from the first three years of the initiative that is now in its fourth year of implementation, and which continues to be associated with decreased rates of MRSA infections.

"This is a landmark initiative for VA and healthcare in general," says VAs Under Secretary for Health, Dr. Robert Petzel. "No one should have to worry about acquiring an illness or infection from the place they trust to deliver their care. I am proud that VA is leading the way."

The article reviews a bundle of four infection control practices that marked a dramatic improvement in preventing hospital-acquired MRSA infections. MRSA infections are a serious global healthcare issue and are difficult to treat because the bacterium is often resistant to many antibiotics.

The prevention practices consist of patient screening programs for MRSA, contact precautions for hospitalized patients found to have MRSA, and hand hygiene reminders with readily available hand sanitizer stations placed strategically in common areas, patient wards, and specialty clinics throughout medical centers. The strategy also involved creating a culture that promotes infection prevention and control as everyones responsibility.

"MRSA is a serious threat to patient health that can be minimized with a few achievable strategies," says Dr. Rajiv Jain, VAs chief consultant for specialty care services and lead author of the study. "I am extremely grateful I work for an agency with 152 integrated medical centers across the Nation so these strategies could be implemented, assessed, and ultimately, shown to work on a vast scale of many different environments. These results mean better healthcare for veterans and a way for the people they defended to also benefit from this effort in the future."

"These are the types of results hospitals should be striving for," says Dr. John Jernigan, chief of the interventions and evaluation section in the division of healthcare quality promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "The bottom line is that MRSA prevention and control is possible."

More than 1.7 million screening tests for MRSA were done on Veteran patients during the period reported in the analysis. VA operates the largest integrated health care system in the United States with more than 1,000 medical facilities throughout the United States serving more than six million Veterans a year. To review the article in the New England Journal of Medicine, visit