Herd Immunity: Mapping MRSA and Other Superbugs, One Case at a Time

Published on
April 11, 2012

What do Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, MountainView Hospital in Las Vegas, and United Memorial Medical Center in Batavia, New York, all have in common?

Patients have caught a healthcare-associated infection there in recent years. You can see this for yourself with a new Google map Antidote has created to track these infections as they are reported. As Antidote noted before, many state governments aren't providing this information to the public, and the federal government isn't either. Health Watch USA made the point that it is easier to find out where cows live in the U.S. than where life-threatening superbugs live. This new map is a small step toward making it easier to know where healthcare-associated infections have hurt patients.

View Herd Immunity in a larger map

The map won't exist without you, though. Share your ideas for what should be added, what should be updated and how the map can be improved in the comments below or by emailing me at askantidote@gmail.com.

You might remember that I did something similar in 2010 with my Doctors Behaving Badly series. That map relied mostly on filings by state medical boards against physicians who had hurt patients or otherwise violated accepted medical practices.

For this map, I'm hoping for examples that meet one of three criteria:

Was the infection or death reported in the press?

If so, send me the link. Sean Carroll at local ABC station WHAM in Rochester – can we just retire the trophy for the best broadcast call sign? – reported in May 2011 that an outbreak of Clostridium difficile at United Memorial Medical Center had been "linked to the death of three patients.  The New York State Department of Health also confirms a total of 19 C diff cases since February 28th are part of an ongoing investigation."

Was the infection or death the subject of a lawsuit?

If so, send me the case or send me the name of the attorneys involved. I'll contact them and ask for a case that I can post. Earlier this month, Nevada's Eighth Judicial District Court ruled that a lawsuit by Laura and Edward Rehfeldt could proceed for medical malpractice against MountainView Hospital in Las Vegas. According to the ruling, the couple alleged that "Laura contracted a Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and went into septic shock after undergoing elective back surgery at MountainView Hospital." Rehfeldt apparently "tested negative for being colonized with or a carrier for MRSA prior to the surgery," and so she and her husband sued, alleging that the hospital and Rehfeldt's surgeon had "committed medical malpractice by failing to provide a clean and sterile hospital environment and failing to properly care for Laura."

Was the infection or death the subject of a local, state or federal investigation?

An outbreak of MRSA infections in mothers and newborns at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston in November 2008 prompted an investigation by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Patricia Wen and Liz Kowalczyk at The Boston Globe reported in April 2009:

Some officials caution that Beth Israel Deaconess alone may not be responsible for the outbreak. Dr. Anita Barry, director of the infectious disease bureau at the Boston Public Health Commission, said she was told that the infected patients at the hospital had, on average, showed symptoms 12 days after discharge, leading her to think that many may have contracted the bacteria in their communities. She also said that testing of hospital staff yielded no specific person who was infected. On the other hand, MRSA specialists said, some carriers will intermittently test negative. The 37 affected patients came from throughout the Boston area. Their only shared experience appears to be staying at the hospital.

Send your examples to askantidote@gmail.com or via Twitter @wheisel, or share them in the comments below. I'll map them. And together we can show the world that tracking superbugs can be painless.