FRIDAY, Aug. 9, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- A common drug-resistant "superbug" spreads among hospitals through a domino effect, according to a new study.
Researchers found that a moderate increase in vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) at one hospital in Orange County, Calif., led to an average 2.8 percent increase in VRE in other hospitals in the county.
Hospitals in the most populated area of the county were most likely to spread VRE to other hospitals, according to the study, which was published in the August issue of the American Journal of Infection Control.
VRE is one of the most common types of bacteria that cause infections in health care facilities. There are between 20,000 and 85,000 cases of VRE each year in U.S. hospitals. The antibiotic vancomycin is often used to treat serious infections that resist other drugs.
For the study, researchers created a mathematical and computational model to track the movement of VRE-colonized patients -- who carry the bacteria but are not infected -- between hospitals in the county over one year.
The study authors also identified a potential for what they called "free-riders" -- hospitals that will have decreases in cases of VRE infections without implementing any infection-prevention measures, due to other hospitals' infection-control efforts.
The findings show the importance of communication and collaboration between regional hospitals in reducing VRE rates, the researchers said.
"Our study demonstrates how extensive patient sharing among different hospitals in a single region substantially influences VRE burden in those hospitals," study lead author Dr. Bruce Lee, an associate professor and the director of operations research at the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in a journal news release.
"Lowering barriers to cooperation and collaboration among hospitals -- developing regional control programs, coordinating VRE control campaigns and performing regional research studies, for example -- could favorably influence regional VRE prevalence," Lee said.
The National Patient Safety Foundation outlines what you can do to prevent hospital infections.