Houston hospitals on the lookout for rare superbug

HOUSTON – Superbugs have become a way of life for local hospitals, but now, bacteria are becoming resistant to medication, posing a threat to lives.

While there are limited steps they can take to keep the infections away, one hospital starts the protection process a month before operating.

Friday, Ashley Hooks went in for pre-op screenings even though she is weeks away from hip surgery.

“We're going to swab you for MRSA,” the nurse told her.

They're looking specifically for staph infections like MRSA. They're not yet able to pre-screen for the latest "superbug" making headlines but Texas Orthopedic Hospital is confident their protocol keeps infection rates low.

“Identifying and treating those carriers we think leads to lower risk for infection for each of my patients who may be a carrier but also for the other patients in the hospital who could have been exposed to the MRSA if it wasn't eradicated in that patient before they came to the hospital,” Dr. Greg Stocks, orthopedic surgeon at Texas Orthopedic Hospital said.

[READ: Rare and dangerous superbug strain found in Houston area]

Dr. Stocks said identifying and eradicating MRSA starts with a nose swab.

“In certain cases we have no antibiotics to treat these organisms,” infectious disease expert, Dr. Seema Shah, said.

Earlier this month, researchers revealed 15 strains of bacteria that resist nearly all antibiotics are more common right here in Houston. Researchers say this is further proof that a human vaccine is needed to solve this superbug problem.

The potential of something so dangerous spreading through hospitals is a regular concern, especially for surgeries like hip, knee and spine.

“It can mean multiple surgeries for the patient, they would certainly need to receive intravenous antibiotics on a long-term basis,” Dr. Stocks said.

At Texas Orthopedic, if a patient is a known carrier, they have to take precautions days, even weeks before surgery.

“That will include having them do chlorhexidine baths for five days, use antibacterial ointment inside the nose for five days, and in addition when they come into the hospital for surgery they are put in isolation,” Dr. Shah said.

For Ashley, she said she's willing to do whatever it takes to get the operation done safely.

“It’s got to get done!” she said.

If a patient tests positive, Dr. Shah said it could potentially delay elective procedures, it would not delay emergent ones.

Download the Click2Houston news app in your app store to stay up-to-date with the latest news while you're on the go.

Sign up for KPRC 2 newsletters to get breaking news, sports, entertainment, contests and more delivered straight to your email inbox.