Superbug MRSA Kills 18,650 in U.S. in 2005

BEIJING, Oct. 17 (Xinhuanet) -- A total of 18,650 died in the United States in 2005 after being infected with a virulent drug-resistant bacterium that can be carried by healthy people, living on their skin or in their noses, said The Journal of the American Medical Association Wednesday.

Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) was responsible for an estimated 94,000 life-threatening infections and 18,650 deaths in 2005, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in the journal.

MRSA is a leading cause of potentially life-threatening bloodstream infections, surgical site infections, and pneumonia, and also known as a superbug because it is resistant to so many antibiotics.

The drug-resistant superbug, which spreads through open wounds and exposure to medical equipment, has usually been found in people being treated in hospitals. But the CDC researchers who carried out the study said only about one-quarter of the invasive infections were hospital patients.

However, more than half of the people who developed the infections were in the health care system -- people who had recently undergone surgery or were on kidney dialysis, for example.

"This confirms in a very rigorous way that this is a huge health problem," said Dr. John A. Jernigan, the deputy chief of prevention and response in the CDC's Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion. "And it drives home that what we do in health care will have a lot to do with how we control it."

In order to curb the spread of MRSA, the CDC suggested cutting back on the use of antibiotics, which can increase the superbug's resistance, and improving hand washing and other hygiene procedures among hospital and other health-care workers.

By comparison, AIDS killed an estimated 17,011 Americans in 2005.