Introduction: Rapid diagnostic tests may allow early identification of previously unknown methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) carriers at intensive care unit (ICU) admission. The aim of this study was twofold: first, to assess whether a new molecular MRSA screening test can substantially decrease the time between ICU admission and identification of MRSA carriers; and, second, to examine the combined effect of rapid testing and pre-emptive contact isolation on MRSA infections.
Method: Since November 2003, patients admitted for longer than 24 hours to two adult ICUs were screened systematically on admission using quick, multiplex immunocapture-coupled PCR (qMRSA). Median time intervals from admission to notification of test results were calculated for a five-month intervention phase (November 2003-March 2004) and compared with a historical control period (April 2003-October 2003) by nonparametric tests. ICU-acquired MRSA infection rates were determined for an extended surveillance period (January 2003 through August 2005) and analyzed by Poisson regression methods.
Results: During the intervention phase, 97% (450/462) of patients admitted to the surgical ICU and 80% (470/591) of patients admitted to the medical ICU were screened. On-admission screening identified the prevalence of MRSA to be 6.7% (71/1053). Without admission screening, 55 previously unknown MRSA carriers would have been missed in both ICUs. Median time from ICU admission to notification of test results decreased from 87 to 21 hours in the surgical ICU (P < 0.001) and from 106 to 23 hours in the medical ICU (P < 0.001). In the surgical ICU, 1,227 pre-emptive isolation days for 245 MRSA-negative patients were saved by using the qMRSA test. After adjusting for colonization pressure, the systematic on-admission screening and pre-emptive isolation policy was associated with a reduction in medical ICU acquired MRSA infections (relative risk 0.3, 95% confidence interval 0.1-0.7) but had no effect in the surgical ICU (relative risk 1.0, 95% confidence interval 0.6-1.7).
Conclusion: The qMRSA test decreased median time to notification from four days to one day and helped to identify previously unknown MRSA carriers rapidly. A strategy linking the rapid screening test to pre-emptive isolation and cohorting of MRSA patients substantially reduced MRSA cross-infections in the medical but not in the surgical ICU.