French scientists have turned to digital health for a possible solution to the spread of antibiotic-resistant staph infections in hospitals and elsewhere.
I had the opportunity to volunteer at a long-term care facility last year but stopped short of signing up because of a thyroid condition that compromises my immune system.
Those with compromised immune systems are at greater risk of becoming ill from exposure to bacteria that cause infections. Experts agree that hospitals and long-term care facilities can be hotbeds of drug-resistant bacteria that can cause infections.
Drug-resistant bacteria on the rise
One of these antibiotic-resistant bacteria, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), is on the rise.
Staph is a nasty bacterium that can live on your skin, or up your nose, and spread without you having any symptoms. Staph spreads through close contact with someone with a full-scale staph infection arising from an infected wound, or someone who has the bacteria.
One-third of people carry staph in their noses, according to studies cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 2% of people carry MRSA – National Public Radio
Staph is the most commonly identified multidrug-resistant strain of bacteria cropping up in hospitals worldwide and the numbers are rising.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 1974 MRSA infections accounted for just 2% of the total number of Staph infections. Today, MRSA accounts for more than 60% of Staph infections. A study released in June 2007 by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) estimates that at least 5% of US patients — about 30,000 people — may be infected with, or are carrying, the bug at any given time. And MRSA is by no means a challenge that only US hospitals face; numerous studies show MRSA is on the rise worldwide. – Institute for Health Care Improvement.
Breakthrough digital health device may help
We all know that proper hygiene, rigorous hand washing and disinfection protocols can help stop the spread of staph infections in health facilities. But scientists in France have turned to digital health for a possible solution.
As part of their study, the scientists supplied 261 health care workers and all of the 329 patients in a long-term care hospital with wireless sensors that logged their interactions with one another every 30 seconds.
Weekly bacteria samples
The scientists also nabbed weekly bacteria samples from the residents’ and workers’ noses and used genetic tests to mark the staph. Researchers were then able to follow how and when the infection moved from person to person.
Over a four-month period, researchers followed the transmission of the bacteria from one person to another. Altogether, some 173 transmissions of staph were tracked. Interestingly, scientists report that about one-third of patients who had been staph-free when they were admitted to the facility became infected within a month.
The findings were published in March in PLOS Computational Biology.
Although the study showed wireless sensors can indeed accurately track the spread of staph between individuals, there is much work to be done to take the research to the next level. Thomas Obadia, lead author of the research paper, told NPR in an interview:
Bottom line is, monitoring contact networks is easy. Recorded signals are indeed correlated with transmission, so such data should be used to design targeted control measures, in hospital or [a long-term care facility]. While this is more of a methodological paper, we're now trying to use the same data in a more applied way, but again this part is still a work in progress.
In the meantime, the best thing we can all do to prevent the spread of drug-resistant bacteria is to take responsibility for our own hygiene. Here are some tips from the Public Health Agency of Canada :
- Keep your hands clean. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially if you can see dirt on them. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you can’t find soap and water.
- Try to keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible.
- Cough or sneeze into your sleeve or a tissue instead of your hand. This prevents you from transferring bacteria to someone else if you touch them or shared objects such as utensils, books and doorknobs.
- If you vomit or have diarrhea, immediately wash your hands and clean your washroom thoroughly. Avoid handling food when you are ill.
- Practice safer sex in order to avoid sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Some STIs, especially certain strains of gonorrhea, are antibiotic-resistant.
Other tips to help stop the spread of antibiotic resistance include:
- Ensure your vaccinations are up to date.
- Ensure that all shared surfaces in your home are visibly clean.
- Store, handle and prepare food safely. Clean anything in your home that comes into contact with food to help eliminate bacteria and reduce the risk of food-related illnesses. It is especially important to wash your hands before and after handling raw meat, fish or seafood. Make sure you thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables that will be eaten raw.
- If you use well water, have it tested regularly.
Top image: This illustration shows the network of contacts and MRSA transmission. Patients and healthcare workers (with a '+' on their heads) are linked by a grey line if they had contact. Methicillin-resistant S. aureus carriers are shown in red.
Credit: Obadia et al.; CC BY 4.0
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.