Zero tolerance for healthcare-associated MRSA bacteraemia: is it realistic?

M Estée Török, Simon R Harris, Edward J P Cartwright, Kathy E Raven, Nicholas M Brown, Michael E D Allison, Daniel Greaves, Michael A Quail, Direk Limmathurotsakul, Matthew T G Holden, Julian Parkhill, Sharon J Peacock

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21 Citations (Scopus)


Background: The term ‘zero tolerance’ has recently been applied to healthcare-associated infections, implying that such events are always preventable. This may not be the case for healthcare-associated infections such as
methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteraemia.

Methods: We combined information from an epidemiological investigation and bacterial whole-genome sequencing to evaluate a cluster of five MRSA bacteraemia episodes in four patients in a specialist hepatology unit.

Results: The five MRSA bacteraemia isolates were highly related by multilocus sequence type (ST) (four isolates were ST22 and one isolate was a single-locus variant, ST2046). Whole-genome sequencing demonstrated unequivocally
that the bacteraemia cases were unrelated. Placing the MRSA bacteraemia isolates within a local and global phylogenetic tree of MRSA ST22 genomes demonstrated that the five bacteraemia isolates were highly diverse. This was
consistent with the acquisition and importation of MRSA from the wider referral network. Analysis of MRSA carriage and disease in patients within the hepatology service demonstrated a higher risk of both initial MRSA acquisition
compared with the nephrology service and a higher risk of progression from MRSA carriage to bacteraemia, compared with patients in nephrology or geriatric services. A root cause analysis failed to reveal any mechanism by which three of five MRSA bacteraemia episodes could have been prevented.

Conclusions: This study illustrates the complex nature of MRSA carriage and bacteraemia in patients in a specialized hepatology unit. Despite numerous ongoing interventions to prevent MRSA bacteraemia in healthcare settings, these
are unlikely to result in a zero incidence in referral centres that treat highly complex patients.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy
Early online date30 Apr 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus
  • outbreak
  • whole-genome sequencing


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