Observational and microbiological data were collected from the patients and environment of a male general surgical ward over a period of 27 months from January 1998. Isolates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) from patients and environment were typed by antibiogram, bacteriophage and pulsed field gel electrophoresis of chromosomal DNA. In September 1999, an intervention was put in place which included increasing the domestic cleaning time by 57 hours per week, with emphasis on removal of dust by vacuum cleaning, and allocation of responsibility for the routine cleaning of shared medical equipment. From January 1998 to September 1999, despite standard infection control measures (emphasis on hand hygiene, isolation of affected patients and staggered closure and cleaning of ward bays), 69 patients acquired a strain of E-MRSA16. This strain was also widespread in the ward environment. Typing confirmed that isolates from patients and environment were indistinguishable from one another and that the outbreak was due to a single strain. This strain was responsible for postoperative infection in approximately one third of the patients who acquired it. In the six months following the intervention, only three patients were colonized with the outbreak MRSA and monthly surveys failed to detect this strain in the environment. Thorough and continuous attention to ward hygiene and removal of dust was needed, to terminate a prolonged outbreak of MRSA infection on a general surgical ward, in addition to standard infection control measures. Control of hospital-acquired infection with MRSA requires a combination of measures, none of which are completely effective in isolation.
Copyright 2001 The Hospital Infection Society.