Staph: From Hospitals To Homes

60 Minutes II, Bacteria

It's one of the great ironies about hospitals -- the places we go to get well are crawling with bacteria that can make us sick.

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports that though the vast majority of hospital stays have a positive outcome, every year, according to the Center for Disease Control, two million patients get infections in American hospitals -- and 90,000 die.

The leading culprit is a bacterium called staphyloccocus aureous -- which has developed resistance to almost every antibiotic we have to fight it.

"Staph is one of the most common infections that we encounter," said Dr. Jonathan Jacobs, of the Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Infectious disease specialists like Jacobs are used to seeing the drug resistant staph in hospital settings. But now, public health officials are wrestling with an emerging problem -- staph is leaving the hospital and is showing up in communities, even in people who've had no contact with a hospital.

"We are very concerned about that and we are devoting our efforts aggressively to controlling the problem," said CDC Dr. Steven Solomon.

The number of non-hospital related infections has been on the rise for the past 3 to 5 years.

"Instead of one out of 20 patients, we have one out of 4 patients that have the resistant organism," said Dr. Victor Yu, who has been tracking the situation.

An investigation in this week's Chicago Tribune places much of the blame on dirty hospitals and health care workers who don't wash their hands. Doctors admit that is a factor in the infections.

"It's very easy to transmit these organisms, and it doesn't take much of a lapse in hygiene to do it," said Jacobs.

But there are bigger issues at play -- hospitals are no longer the sanctuaries they once were.

"There's tremendous movement back and forth of patients into and out of health care settings," said Solomon.

Many believe the leading cause is that years of overuse of antibiotics are creating invincible bugs that can thrive anywhere.

"For the first time in perhaps maybe 50 years, the microbes probably have an edge," said Yu. "It's scary."

The Centers for Disease Control admits it can no longer rely on new antibiotics to stop hospital infections and will instead turn to old-fashioned containment and prevention to keep the situation from getting any worse.