About two weeks ago CBC’s current affairs program Marketplace aired The Dirt on Hotelswhere it investigated the prevalence of germs in six of Canada’s largest hotel chains. They went on a bacteria hunt and discovered not just bacteria, but the more troublesome antibiotic resistant bacteria, in every hotel chain they went to. MRSA, in particular, was found growing on a faucet in Toronto’s upscale Royal York Hotel, and on telephones, counter-tops, and bed comforters in the other hotels.
Erica Johnson, the CBC reporter who investigated this, says she has resorted to self-help when she travels. She brings alcohol wipes with her and uses them on hotel room surfaces where her investigation revealed superbugs are most commonly found: on door handles, light switches, taps, the phone, clock radio, and the toilet seat. She puts a towel down for her toiletries, brings her own cup instead of using a hotel glass, and for the biggest offender – the tv remote, she puts it in a plastic bag and uses it that way!
What this investigation uncovered is but one example of what the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just published in their report Antibiotic Resistant Threats in the United States, 2013. This first-ever assessment of the threat the country faces from antibiotic-resistant organisms contained the following warnings about MRSA’s impact on human health:
- Of the 23,000 people who die each year as a direct result of antibiotic resistant infections, MRSA is responsible for almost half of the deaths (11,285 = 49% ).
- The CDC rates the threat level posed to us by MRSA as “serious.” They conclude “This bacteria is a serious concern and requires prompt and sustained action to ensure the problem does not grow.”
- During the past decade, rates of MRSA infections have increased rapidly among the general population.
- While antibiotic-resistant infections can happen anywhere, most deaths related to antibiotic resistance happen in healthcare settings such as hospitals and nursing homes.
- Staph bacteria, including MRSA, are one of the most common causes of healthcare-associated infections.
The CDC emphasized that their numbers of infection and death are purposefully conservative. So for example, by way of contrast, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported in 2007 that 18,650 deaths each year in the US are associated with 94,360 invasive MRSA infections.
This is why, for example, the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons describe MRSA as a “silent epidemic.”