Background: Identifying and tackling the social determinants of infectious diseases has become a public health priority following the recognition that individuals with lower socioeconomic status are disproportionately affected by infectious diseases. In many parts of the world, epidemiologically and genotypically defined community-associated (CA) methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strains have emerged to become frequent causes of hospital infection. The aim of this study was to use spatial models with adjustment for area-level hospital attendance to determine the transmission niche of genotypically defined CA- and health-care-associated (HA)-MRSA strains across a diverse region of South East London and to explore a potential link between MRSA carriage and markers of social and material deprivation.
Methods and findings: This study involved spatial analysis of cross-sectional data linked with all MRSA isolates identified by three National Health Service (NHS) microbiology laboratories between 1 November 2011 and 29 February 2012. The cohort of hospital-based NHS microbiology diagnostic services serves 867,254 usual residents in the Lambeth, Southwark, and Lewisham boroughs in South East London, United Kingdom (UK). Isolates were classified as HA- or CA-MRSA based on whole genome sequencing. All MRSA cases identified over 4 mo within the three-borough catchment area (n = 471) were mapped to small geographies and linked to area-level aggregated socioeconomic and demographic data. Disease mapping and ecological regression models were used to infer the most likely transmission niches for each MRSA genetic classification and to describe the spatial epidemiology of MRSA in relation to social determinants. Specifically, we aimed to identify demographic and socioeconomic population traits that explain cross-area extra variation in HA- and CA-MRSA relative risks following adjustment for hospital attendance data. We explored the potential for associations with the English Indices of Deprivation 2010 (including the Index of Multiple Deprivation and several deprivation domains and subdomains) and the 2011 England and Wales census demographic and socioeconomic indicators (including numbers of households by deprivation dimension) and indicators of population health. Both CA-and HA-MRSA were associated with household deprivation (CA-MRSA relative risk [RR]: 1.72 [1.03-2.94]; HA-MRSA RR: 1.57 [1.06-2.33]), which was correlated with hospital attendance (Pearson correlation coefficient [PCC] = 0.76). HA-MRSA was also associated with poor health (RR: 1.10 [1.01-1.19]) and residence in communal care homes (RR: 1.24 [1.12-1.37]), whereas CA-MRSA was linked with household overcrowding (RR: 1.58 [1.04-2.41]) and wider barriers, which represent a combined score for household overcrowding, low income, and homelessness (RR: 1.76 [1.16-2.70]). CA-MRSA was also associated with recent immigration to the UK (RR: 1.77 [1.19-2.66]). For the area-level variation in RR for CA-MRSA, 28.67% was attributable to the spatial arrangement of target geographies, compared with only 0.09% for HA-MRSA. An advantage to our study is that it provided a representative sample of usual residents receiving care in the catchment areas. A limitation is that relationships apparent in aggregated data analyses cannot be assumed to operate at the individual level.
Conclusions: There was no evidence of community transmission of HA-MRSA strains, implying that HA-MRSA cases identified in the community originate from the hospital reservoir and are maintained by frequent attendance at health care facilities. In contrast, there was a high risk of CA-MRSA in deprived areas linked with overcrowding, homelessness, low income, and recent immigration to the UK, which was not explainable by health care exposure. Furthermore, areas adjacent to these deprived areas were themselves at greater risk of CA-MRSA, indicating community transmission of CA-MRSA. This ongoing community transmission could lead to CA-MRSA becoming the dominant strain types carried by patients admitted to hospital, particularly if successful hospital-based MRSA infection control programmes are maintained. These results suggest that community infection control programmes targeting transmission of CA-MRSA will be required to control MRSA in both the community and hospital. These epidemiological changes will also have implications for effectiveness of risk-factor-based hospital admission MRSA screening programmes.