MRIs Are a Breeding Ground for Super Bugs Like MRSA

by Lynn Shapiro, Writer | October 22, 2008
Antibiotic resistant MRSA
The Joint Commission--the agency that certifies hospitals--is extremely concerned about super bugs like Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) and is evaluating control procedures for every department in hospitals including the MRI suite, says Peter Rothschild, M.D., a radiologist and MRI expert who authored the landmark paper "Preventing Infection in MRI: Best Practices."

But efforts to address the problem are falling woefully short in hospitals, and are completely absent in free-standing imaging centers, according to experts.

Dr. Rothschild tells DOTmed News, "When you go to a restaurant, you know the health department has looked at it. Even the trashiest restaurant. But there's no one watching these outpatient imaging centers--no requirement that anyone comes in there and certifies them as clean and safe."
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Furthermore, there's a Catch 22 with MRIs in all settings, Dr. Rothschild says. "The magnets and the pads on the table can harbor MRSA and need to be cleaned. But cleaning crews are not permitted to go into the imaging room unless technologists supervise them at all times. Since the cleaning crew usually comes late at night after the technologists have gone home, the MRI rooms are rarely if ever cleaned," Dr. Rothschild says.

"If the cleaning crew is not properly supervised, they could be injured or killed," the doctor says. "For example, if they bring in anything metal (like a screw driver) it will be drawn into the magnet at over 60 miles an hour." He mentioned the infamous case of the young boy in New York who was killed when a non-MRI-compatible oxygen tank was brought into the suite by mistake. It was sucked into the magnet, crushing the patient.

"Also if a new cleaning person has a pacemaker or aneurysm clip and enters the room he could be killed," Dr. Rothschild says.

What's more, the magnets don't come with cleaning instructions so there is great concern over using harsh cleaning solutions on the coils and magnet, which are very expensive and can be damaged, he says.

Pads Harbor Germs

"Worst are the pads. They come in close contact with the patient and are often torn and frayed -- the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. With a black light, you can see the biological materials left on these pads where bacteria can grow. The technologist's answer to torn and frayed pads is often to puts a clean sheet over these contaminated pads, which is of no help.
Torn and frayed pads
are a biohazard
and must be replaced

"The pillows are another example of lack of infection control. They are bought at the store and are used for years before being discarded and never properly cleaned," Dr. Rothschild says. He advises that "pillowcases do not protect patients against aggressive staph infections like MRSA. The centers need to change their pillows and use pillows designed for medical use, not ones bought at Wal-Mart."