Rare infection found in Phila. hospital patient

A scanning electron micrograph shows a strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria taken from a Vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (VRSA) culture. (Wikipedia)

A patient at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia has been diagnosed with a rare form of staph infection - Vancomycin-resistant Staphyloccus aureus or VRSA. The patient was transferred to the hospital from Delaware and did not contract the bacterial infection at the University of Pennsylvania-owned facility.

Unlike the much more common, and more easily treated methicillin-resistant Staph aureus or MRSA, VRSA, as its name implies, is able to survive the powerful antibiotic vancomycin, a drug that doctors turn to only when other medications fail.

Vancomycin therapy is widely used in patients with decreased kidney function to keep them from getting bacterial infections. The patient was on dialysis and had a history of resistant infections including MRSA.

She was isolated on admission because of her known history of having MRSA. Doctors believe that the VRSA developed when her MRSA mutated by adding vancomycin resistance from another bacteria.

VRSA is not as easily transferred from patient to patient, according to Neil Fishman, an infectious disease doctor at Penn Medicine. The patient is the 11th in the country to contract VRSA, he said. And Fishman noted that while rare, VRSA is not particularly virulent and is susceptible to a number of other antibiotics.

According to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this would be the first reported case of VRSA in the country since 2007, when two cases were reported. Four additional cases were reported in 2006 and 2005. Another less resistant form of the bacteria, vancomycin-intermediate staph, is more common with 13 cases so far this year and another 183 cases reported to the CDC from 2005 through 2009.

The case at Pennsylvania Hospital is being investigated by infectious disease experts at Penn in conjunction with the State Department of Health and the CDC. A similar case of VRSA was found at a Harrisburg, Pa. hospital in 2002, here is the CDC report of that investigation.