Outsmarting Outbreaks

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Science  30 Nov 2012:
Vol. 338, Issue 6111, pp. 1161-1162
DOI: 10.1126/science.1232327

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Everywhere, hospitals, clinics, medical centers, nursing homes, and other health care facilities face the possible spread of highly pathogenic or antibiotic-resistant bacteria within their premises. Measures are adopted to thwart this—infected patients are isolated, physicians and other staff members wear protective clothing and vigilantly wash their hands, exposed rooms are treated with disinfectant, and equipment and materials are sterilized or disposed of. Yet, there are about 100,000 deaths annually attributed to infections acquired at such facilities in the United States alone (1), and retrospective reports this year indicate that such measures are not sufficient. Incidents of the spread of deadly microbes both within hospitals and then, alarmingly, beyond those boundaries are an urgent reminder that strategies to stem outbreaks on a local scale must include effective procedures within the environment of patient care facilities. These procedures must keep pace with state-of-the-art techniques that can track microbes in real time. Genomic sequencing can provide information that gives facilities a head start in implementing preventive measures. However, hospitals must be funded, staffed, and equipped to do this kind of investigation and analysis in real time.