Over the past decade, the number of Washington hospital patients infected with a frightening, antibiotic-resistant germ called MRSA has skyrocketed from about 140 a year to more than 4,700. But these numbers, revealed by a Seattle Times investigation, don't appear in public documents. Washington regulators don't track the germ or its victims, and Washington hospitals do not have to reveal infection rates.
MRSA, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is spread by touch or contact. Six out of seven people infected with MRSA contract it at a health-care facility. Many people first learned about the germ in 2007 when the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that invasive MRSA infections claim at least 18,000 lives a year, more than AIDS.
But MRSA has been quietly killing for decades, and the entire time, there has been a simple diagnostic test that could have saved countless lives. However, not a single community hospital in Washington screens every patient for the pathogen.