MRSA may have been brought largely under control in the UK, but hospital infections are on an upward trend – and they are getting more resilient and more serious than ever.
Patients brought into hospital for routine operations are picking up infections that even the most modern and powerful antibiotics lack the strength to tackle. Resistant strains of such viruses are fast becoming one of the biggest problems of modern-day nursing.
Natural selection in action
The problems associated with antibiotic resistance began when they were introduced 60 years ago. The drugs eliminate weak bugs, leaving survivors which multiply fast and become increasingly resistant each time antibiotics are used, resulting in new strains of life-threatening infections.
“What is alarming is the rate at which bacteria is becoming resistant to antibiotics,” said Danilo Lo Fo Wong, a senior adviser on antimicrobial resistance to the World Health Organisation.
“To put it bluntly, we are running out of ideas. That’s the problem we face. For many years we have been one step ahead of evolution, but in the past 25 years, we have failed to develop new antibiotics,” he added.
How do patients become infected?
According to the Health Protection Agency, a new strain of norovirus called Sydney 2012 is behind the majority of recent cases of hospital-acquired infections (HIA) in England and Wales. But why are these infections so prominent in a hospital environment?
Firstly, the weakened immune system of patients in hospital is less able to put up a fight against bacteria, especially true of children and the elderly. Secondly, invasive devices such as catheters and tracheostomy tubes bypass the body’s natural line of defence against pathogens, thus providing an easy route for infection. Since treatments can undermine the body’s defences, these sometimes leave patients vulnerable to infection.
What threats do new infections pose?
Infections are aggravated by the reduced resistance of individual patients, and can exacerbate conditions or throw up unexpected complications. Since they have a weaker immune system than others, the elderly are particularly at risk of catching a potentially lethal HIA.
Age Scotland spokesperson Lindsay Scott said: “It is important that patients, particularly those in later life, can depend upon a clean ward, spotless equipment and bedding, properly trained, attentive staff that abide by the dress code and top quality infection prevention and control so that they feel they are in a safe environment.”
MRSA can leave patients feeling dizzy, confused, suffering from muscular aches and pains, chills, a high temperature and a general sense of feeling unwell. Invasive MRSA infections can lead to more serious conditions such as blood poisoning, urinary tract infections, endocarditis, septic arthritis, septic bursitis and osteomyelitis.
Why nurses are vital to stopping the spread of new infections
Back in 2005, two nurses were so concerned about the level of MRSA infections at open treatment sites such as tracheostomies that they developed a new treatment protocol. Using an antimicrobial wound dressing – ACTISORB Silver 220 – has proved so successful that it was made standard policy across Doncaster and Bassetlaw NHS Hospitals Trust.
That was eight years ago: with new knowledge and advanced technology, imagine what nurses could do now! As well as coming up with bright ideas, nurses are also responsible for ensuring that good hygiene practices are followed across the wards, and strive to keep infections to a minimum by keeping a sharp eye on sanitation protocols regarding uniforms, hand washing, equipment sterilisation and sanitising surfaces.