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MRIs Are a Breeding Ground for Super Bugs Like MRSA

by Lynn Shapiro, Writer | October 22, 2008

Deaths Are Staggering

He says that deaths from MRSA have been staggering, with more people dying in the U.S. this year from the super bug than from AIDS. The mutated bacteria still respond to some antibiotics but treatment is extremely difficult. Some antibiotics are successful in some people but others don't respond. What's more, the newer antibiotics are very expensive and may have serious side effects. The usual way to spread MRSA is through surface to skin contact, but sometimes it is airborne.

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"We must focus on prevention," Dr. Rothschild says.

He advises that the most important procedure to stop MRSA is hand washing. However, what's unbelievable, Dr. Rothschild says, is that he has never seen a sink in any MRI rooms he's visited in over 25 years. (We welcome DOTmed users' expert views on the challenge of running pipes and plumbing into the MR suite!)

"Mobile MRIs don't even have running water and technologists rarely wash their hands between patients. They keep spreading these bacteria. They're often too busy and infection control gets overlooked. The price of an MRI is coming down so they need to scan more patients in less time, leaving no time for proper infection control. Technologists feel they could be fired if they are too slow at turning around the MRI room for the next patient," Dr. Rothschild says.

Use Written Protocols

He adds, MRI centers must install written protocols. Centers must insist that technologists wash their hands and clean the pads. Also if pads are torn and frayed, even if patients don't see them because a sheet is placed over the pads, they must be replaced.

One technologist told Dr. Rothschild that the pad she used was so bad it smelled. She used air fresheners to cover up the stench.

Malpractice Suits

Centers need to take MRSA seriously, if only because they might be facing medical malpractice suits, Dr. Rothschild warns. For example, if patients get MRSA after having an MRI, the plaintiff's attorney can subpoena the pads and obtain cultures to determine if the bug came from the same colony living on the pads or in the magnet, using DNA-type testing. Additionally Dr. Rothschild has shown MRSA can live on the pads for over eight weeks.

He adds that "the best way I have found for patients to protect themselves is to ask to see the center's written infection control policies before their scans. If that center does not follow the cleaning procedures, I would look for another MRI center where infection control is a priority."

11 Steps for Preventing Super Bug Infections in MRI