Antibiotic-resistant bacteria, especially MRSA and VRE, are an increasing problem in US hospitals and nursing homes.2 Isolation is complicated by the fact that both MRSA and VRE can cause a carrier state that poses an IC hazard, and requires prolonged isolation precautions. Current isolation guidelines recommend contact isolation for MRSA and VRE in hospitals,1 and a form of modified contact isolation for LTCFs. The modifications are due to the more limited resources of LTCFs, and the desire to respect the comfort of residents, who often stay in LTCFs for years.
A 1996 Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) position paper reviewed several studies of MRSA outbreaks in LTCFs, including measures such as surveillance cultures, barrier precautions, and decolonization attempts.3 More aggressive measures, such as surveillance for MDROs, may be employed in the face of an outbreak, but are not routinely necessary in the LTCF. The guideline discouraged decolonization, but recommended that the LTCF should obtain information on colonization or infection of the prospective resident with MDROs prior to admission. This was done by nearly half of the facilities in our survey. Antimicrobial review is also recommended as measure to decrease resistance4; this was not included in our survey, but an earlier study revealed that about 50% of a sample of 25 Nebraska LTCFs had antimicrobial review programs.5
A 1998 SHEA position paper on VRE in the LTCF recommended a private room for isolation, if available, or cohorting, or placement of a VRE patient with a low-risk resident.6 Single rooms for isolation are not as available in the LTCF, and extrapolations of hospital recommendations to that setting are problematic. In an effort to better understand the resources and current practices on isolation in the LTCF setting, we undertook a survey of all Nebraska LTCFs. All 230 LTCFs in the state of Nebraska were surveyed, and over 50% responded. The median number of beds in responding facilities was 65, with a range from 21 to 410, and the median number of occupied beds was 59.
In an effort to assess isolation capacity, we inquired about private rooms. Although most facilities had private rooms (median 7 per facility), most (90%) had no other designated isolation rooms, and only one LTCF had more than one isolation room available. The most frequently reported number of occupants in nonprivate rooms was 2 (93%). Because most facilities had to place MRSA and VRE patients in shared rooms, we asked about the shared facilities. There was a spectrum of arrangements (see Table 1), with the most common being a toilet in each room but shared bathing facilities. Only about one-fourth had a bathroom and toilet in each room. The median number of users per shared bathroom was 3, and the median number of users per shared toilet was 2. This underscores the potential for spread of resistant organisms, especially VRE, which is carried in the stool and rectal area. Sinks are a key element in IC,3 and nearly 90% of the facilities reported that all of their rooms had sinks.
A variety of arrangements for MRSA and VRE isolation were seen (see Table 4), which reflects the various recommendations in the literature.1,7 In acute care hospitals, contact precautions is recommended for patients with MDROs, which means that health care personnel wear gowns and gloves for all interactions that may involve contact with the patient or the patient's environment. Overall, most of the facilities made some accommodation for the MRSA and VRE cases (single room, contact isolation, cohorting), with less than 10% of LTCFs placing these patients with general roommates. Interestingly, less stringent isolation was employed for residents colonized with one of these organisms than for those with active infection. For instance, a private room with contact isolation was used by 10% and 15 % of LTCFs for isolation of colonized residents with MRSA and VRE, respectively, but by 39% and 52% of facilities for residents with active MRSA and VRE infection. Colonized and infected residents have not been shown to pose different IC risk.
The literature is unclear on when to discontinue isolation for resistant organisms. This was reflected in our survey (see Table 5), although the most common practice was to stop isolation after 3 negative cultures for both MRSA and VRE.
Transfer of patients with resistant organisms between hospitals and LTCFs is a mechanism for the spread of resistant bacteria, and a source of potential dispute.8,9 As a result, some facilities screen transfer patients. In our survey, 10% of LTCFs screened newly arrived residents for MRSA and VRE; 37% and 23% screened prospective residents for MRSA and VRE, respectively, even prior to transfer. Another 3% screened residents for these organisms after an intercurrent hospitalization. Four to 5% reported that they had screened residents for epidemiologic reasons (eg, during a suspected outbreak) beyond any cultures ordered by physicians. MRSA and VRE screening was done more often before admission than after admission, the opposite of the situation for TB screening. Screening allowed admitted residents to be isolated per institutional protocol. Over 75% of facilities kept records on known MRSA, VRE, and tuberculin-positive patients.
MRSA and VRE are increasingly reported, not just in large hospitals, but in small hospitals, LTCFs, and even the community.1 Sixty-one percent of our surveyed LTCFs reported MRSA in their facilities in the last 2 years. Half had newly diagnosed MRSA cases in the last 2 years, usually in small numbers (eg, 1-5), including both residents who had MRSA on admission, and those who turned up with MRSA 2 months or more after admission. VRE was less common, with 20% reporting some VRE in the last 2 years, usually in small numbers, a mixture of newly discovered cases on admission and cases that appeared more than 2 months after admission.
All but one facility had designated IC personnel, but 97% of the ICPs had other roles, which has been shown in other studies.10 Education is essential to an effective IC program. Over 95% of facilities formally educated new staff in isolation practices, and nearly two-thirds tested new staff on isolation procedures at orientation. Over 95% of staff received in-service training in universal precautions at least annually. As consistent with current OSHA regulations,11 98% of new staff were screened for TB; less than 5% of facilities screened staff for MRSA and VRE.
The limitations of this study include the fact that the survey is limited to Nebraska facilities, and may not be generalizable to facilities in other states or regions. The Nebraska Infection Control Network has been training ICPs at a semiannual course for almost 20 years, and as a result, the IC practices in the state may not reflect national practices. It was beyond the purview of the study to validate the questionnaire in the field. In spite of these limitations, the survey provides valuable information on practices and challenges regarding isolation of MRSA and VRE in LTCF settings, information that has bearing on developing realistic isolation standards for long-term care.
In conclusion, multiply resistant bacteria are an increasing problem for LTCFs as well as hospitals. We surveyed Nebraska LTCFs regarding their approach to MRSA and VRE. The survey noted variable approaches to screening, type of isolation, and duration of isolation of MRSA and VRE in long-term care, suggesting a need for further education and guidelines for resistant organisms in this setting.
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© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guidelines for preventing transmission of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in health-care facilities. MMWR