Infant Staph Infections Result in More Deaths Than Superbugs: Study

New research suggests that common staph infections, which are not drug-resistant, remain just as dangerous and cause more infant deaths nationwide than antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbug infections. 

In a study published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics on October 19, researchers presented evidence claiming hospital infections, such as Staphylococcus aureus, are more common and actually cause higher infant fatality rates, along with longer hospital stays across the nation, than antibiotic resistant superbug infections.

The media coined term “superbug” refers to a family of bacteria that is resistant to all or most antibiotics, resulting in lesser chances of killing the infections by routine treatments. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates drug-resistant bacteria, or superbugs, cause 2 million illnesses and approximately 23,000 deaths each year in the United States alone.

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The study surveyed 48 neonatal intensive care units around the U.S. from 1997 through 2012, with the intent to discover whether antibiotic resistant infections were numerically more harmful than common hospital staph infections.

Researchers looked specifically at the impact on infant patients who were diagnosed with regular Staphylococcus aureus (S aureus) infections that are treatable by common antibiotics and cases of infant patients diagnosed with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as MRSA infections.

The findings suggest that 72% of the infections recorded across the nation over the 15 year period were caused by ordinary S aureus infections and just 28% were caused by MRSA infections. Although the MRSA infections cause infections throughout different parts of the body and pose a more difficult treatment regimen due to its antibiotic resistance, the ordinary staph infections cause higher fatality rates among infants.

Mortality data indicates the common S aureus infections caused more infant deaths before hospital discharge than invasive MRSA infections. The data showed that ordinary staph infections caused 237 deaths from the 2,868 infant records reviewed, and MRSA infections caused 110 deaths. The researchers claimed that between 10 and 12 percent of the infants infected with either of the infected strains had died.

Although both infections are equally deadly, death before hospital discharge occurred more often in infants with invasive S aureus infections born at less than 1,500 g than infants born at 1,500 g or higher. The study claims that this find could indicate that infants with lower birth weights could be more susceptible and at higher risk of fatalities from both forms of infection.

Overall, regular staph infections caused 2.6 times more invasive infections than MRSA. The researchers found a decreasing trend in the staph infections over the years. The highest number of infection cases were recorded between 1997 and 2006 but then declined modestly from 2007 through 2012. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that one in 25 U.S. hospital patients has caught an infection during a hospital stay.

In March, the White House announced a five-year plan to combat superbugs amid continuing health risks associated with antibiotic resistant bacteria spreading throughout the nation. The National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria highlighted specific steps to slow the spread and implement stricter antibiotic prescribing methods.

Several studies, including one published in the Clinical Infectious Diseases Journal on January 21, have shifted blames for the rise of superbugs on doctor’s antibiotic prescribing methods and patients not fully running their antibiotics course. The researchers indicated that doctor’s go-to-method of treating bacteria with aggressive rounds of antibiotics only leads to the spread of resistant forms of bacteria.


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