MRSA and hospital infections are on the increase as are the related legal claims.  The scientific, public policy and legal liability questions were addressed during a Dec. 11, 2008 teleconference where four panelists offered background, perspective and discourse.    This is Part 2 of 4 posts made up of excerpts from the recording.  Dr. Betsy McCaughey is a health policy expert and former Lt. Governor of New York.  She is founder, CEO and chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Death.  Dr. McCaughey reviewed  a new research on the size of the problem.  This is just an excerpt of some of her comments.

“I am going to [review] a lot of new research on the size of the problem, on the preventability of the problem, and focusing on two aspects of preventability, the enormous importance of standards of environmental cleaning, how to clean a hospital, and the importance of screening for these drug-resistant bugs, especially MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus).” 

“. . . the CDC has claimed for many years that about 1.7 million patients to two million patients contract infections each year.  In fact, the CDC will tell you that number is very old.  It is based on a small sliver of 2002 data and the number is probably several times that number, somewhere between eight million and 10 million patients contracted infections each year.”

“The CDC has already revised their statement that one out of every 20 patients (five percent) contract infections.  They have revised it to say that it is more likely that at least one out of every 10 patients contracts an infection.”

“We know that the numbers for hospital-acquired MRSA are far larger than previously thought.  In December of last year, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control published the first ever, very broad, national survey of how many patients in the hospital had hospital-acquired MRSA.  They found that 2.4 percent of hospital patients contracted it and that translates into about 880,000 patients.  That is just from that one superbug.  We know from the data that MRSA accounts for only about eight percent of all hospital infections so if you do the simple arithmetic, you can see that we are talking about between eight million and 10 million hospital infections each year, not a mere 1.7 million to two million.”

“Whatever the number . . .  the danger is growing.  It is growing because increasingly these infections cannot be treated with commonly used antibiotics.  I will give you one example.  In 1974 only two percent of Staph Aureus infections were drug resistant.  By 1995 that figure had shot up to 22 percent.  By 2003, 57 percent, and now almost 70 percent of Staph infections are what we call methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, nicknamed MRSA.”

“I should say that it is really remarkable that hospitals haven’t done more to resolve this problem because the CDC says about 50 percent of hospital-acquired infections are caused by this one simple issue, poor hand hygiene, and it is probably true.”

“The fact is the healthcare industry is the only place where safety rules are treated as mere recommendations.  If pilots didn’t use the checklist and stick to the runway when they want to take off, they would be thrown out of the cockpit, but doctors and nurses fail to clean their hands with impunity.”

“It is changing however.  The University of Pittsburgh, for example, is considering suspending doctors admitting privileges, docking medical workers pay, actually taking a tougher stand on failure to comply with hand hygiene because the evidence is so compelling that this is a major cause of hospital infections.”

“ . . . hospital infection is the next asbestos.  It is going to be the next major cause of class action lawsuits because the information we now have . . . . shows you that infection is no longer the inevitable risk that patients will face in the hospital.” 

“These infections are nearly all preventable through a rigorous hand hygiene, careful cleaning of equipment and patients’ rooms according to the standards indicated by this new scientific research, and screening incoming patients to identify those who need extra protocols to remove the bacteria from their own skin before surgery, and to protect the much larger number of patients who are not bringing these bugs in with them.”

The teleconference was produced by HB Litigation Conferences LLC, formerly Mealey’s Conferences.  For more information go to the Archives section of, or write to