WEDNESDAY, May 29 (HealthDay News) -- Providing antibacterial soap and ointment to all patients in intensive-care units helps control the potentially deadly hospital-acquired infection known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus -- or MRSA, a new U.S. government-funded study finds.
"This study helps answer a long-standing debate in the medical field about whether we should tailor our efforts to prevent infection to specific pathogens, such as MRSA, or whether we should identify a high-risk patient group and give them all special treatment to prevent infection," said study author Dr. Susan Huang, an associate professor at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine.
"The universal decolonization strategy was the most effective and the easiest to implement. It eliminates the need for screening ICU patients for MRSA," she added.
MRSA, often labeled a "super bug," is a type of staph infection that can't be treated by methicillin and other common antibiotics. Many healthy people have MRSA skin infections that aren't serious. But severe, potentially fatal MRSA infections threaten patients in hospitals, nursing homes and other health care settings.
Common infections associated with MRSA include pneumonia, infections of surgical wounds and the urinary tract and bloodstream infections.
The new study, published May 29 in the New England Journal of Medicine, tested three MRSA prevention strategies with the sickest hospital patients: usual care; giving germ-killing soap and ointment only to ICU patients with MRSA bacteria; or providing the antibacterial products to all ICU patients.
Using the germ-killing products on all ICU patents reduced bloodstream infections by up to 44 percent and significantly reduced the presence of MRSA, according to the study, funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The study, which involved 74 adult ICUs and more than 74,000 patients, was conducted by researchers from UC Irvine, Harvard Pilgrim Heath Care Institute, the Hospital Corporation of America and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CDC Director Thomas Frieden said that, based on these findings, the next step is to develop infection prevention recommendations. "We need to turn science into practical action for clinicians and hospitals," he said in an agency news release.
Three-quarters of MRSA infections in intensive-care units are methicillin-resistant, according to the CDC. But progress is being made in the battle to control the bacteria: Life-threatening MRSA infections in hospitals decreased by nearly 50 percent from 2005 through 2010, according to a 2012 CDC report.
Other health care officials agreed the study results have wide-ranging implications for hospital safety.
"Patients in the ICU are already very sick, and the last thing they need to deal with is a preventable infection," Dr. Carolyn Clancy, director of the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, said in the news release. "This research has the potential to influence clinical practice significantly and create a safer environment where patients can heal without harm."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines who's at risk for MRSA.