(NaturalNews) Patients who carry drug-resistant bacteria home after hospital discharge can transmit the infection to their home caretakers, according to a study conducted by researchers from Bichat-Claude Bernard Hospital, Assistance Publique-Hopitaux de Paris, and published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.
Infection by antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a growing public health threat. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 3.5 million people become infected with MRSA in the United States each year, leading to 90,000 deaths. In particular, "community-acquired" MRSA infections -- those acquired outside of health-care settings -- are of increasing concern to public health officials.
"In the last decade, community-acquired MRSA strains have caused hospital outbreaks and sometimes replaced older strains previously responsible for hospital-acquired MRSA infections," the researchers wrote. "Conversely, hospital-acquired MRSA strains can spread outside the healthcare system."
The study was conducted on 1,501 patients who were discharged from French hospitals into home care between February 2003 and March 2004.
"Patients with major health problems are increasingly discharged to home health care, which creates new opportunities for the transmission of hospital-acquired MRSA," researcher Jean-Christophe Lucet said.
The researchers found that 191 of the discharged patients, or 12.7 percent, were infected with MRSA. While just over half of these patients were able to eliminate their MRSA infections within one year of infection, 19.1 percent of the patients' household contacts also became infected.
None of the infected household contacts developed symptoms of infection, meaning the bacteria were living only in the nose or skin -- where they could be re-transmitted to someone else.
Older patients were more likely to bring MRSA home from the hospital, and elderly contacts were also most likely to acquire the infection. The contacts at highest risk were those providing care to the patients.
"Sharing the same bed or bedroom, in contrast, was not associated with MRSA transmission," the researchers wrote. "Thus, MRSA may be preferentially transmitted to contacts at high risk for hand contamination during care procedures."
They recommended that home health-care providers follow the same sanitation and hygiene practices that are recommended for hospitals.