Catching up on some reading: health care reform, food bugs, vaccine, MRSA+flu

Folks, while I was caught in travel hell, some excellent stories and blogposts were released. Here’s a quick round-up of recommendations for a rainy weekend:

  • At Roll Call (covers Congress like a blanket), Ramanan Laxminarayan, PhD MPH, of the rational-use-of-antibiotics project Extending the Cure and infection-control physician Ed Septimus, MD make a strong argument for including control of hospital infections in health care reform. Hard to argue against when you realize that HAIs cost the United States more than $33 billion each year.
  • At Meat Wagon, a blog of the online magazine Grist, the always-excellent Tom Philpott digs into the ongoing outbreak of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella in hamburger meat. Key quote: “Outbreaks of [antibiotic-resistant foodborne illnesses] are really ecological markers — feedback that our way of producing meat is deeply unsustainable and really quite dangerous.”
  • The Associated Press reports that the long-in-development staph vaccine made by Nabi Pharmaceuticals may have received a second life: It’s been purchased by international pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline in a $46-million deal.
  • And finally and sadly, the Sacramento Bee reports that a California nurse who died of H1N1/swine flu also had MRSA pneumonia. Karen Ann Hays, 51, died despite being extremely healthy: she was a triathlete, skydiver and marathon runner. No one yet has been able to say whether she caught the flu — or MRSA — at work (though her partner believes that to be true), but her death has fueled disquiet among members of the California Nurses Association, who are protesting a lack of protective equipment for nurses.

For those of us concerned about MRSA pneumonia — and we have been talking here since the start of the H1N1 pandemic about the danger of MRSA co-infection — that last item about Hays’ very sad death should underline a vital point. Public health authorities have been stressing that H1N1 is most deadly when the infected person has a pre-existing condition: pregnancy, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cystic fibrosis. It is possible that MRSA infection is also a pre-existing condition that will put anyone infected with flu at risk of deadly complications.

If you have had MRSA, even a minor skin infection — and especially if you have experienced recurrent infections — you should probably discuss with your personal physician whether you should take the H1N1 vaccine when or if it becomes available. It could be the step that prevents a minor case of flu from tipping over into something much more serious.


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