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Since hospitals in a region often share patients, an outbreak of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection in one hospital could affect other hospitals.
Using extensive data collected from Orange County (OC), California, we developed a detailed agent-based model to represent patient movement among all OC hospitals. Experiments simulated MRSA outbreaks in various wards, institutions, and regions. Sensitivity analysis varied lengths of stay, intraward transmission coefficients (β), MRSA loss rate, probability of patient transfer or readmission, and time to readmission.
Each simulated outbreak eventually affected all of the hospitals in the network, with effects depending on the outbreak size and location. Increasing MRSA prevalence at a single hospital (from 5% to 15%) resulted in a 2.9% average increase in relative prevalence at all other hospitals (ranging from no effect to 46.4%). Single-hospital intensive care unit outbreaks (modeled increase from 5% to 15%) caused a 1.4% average relative increase in all other OC hospitals (ranging from no effect to 12.7%).
MRSA outbreaks may rarely be confined to a single hospital but instead may affect all of the hospitals in a region. This suggests that prevention and control strategies and policies should account for the interconnectedness of health care facilities.
Assessments of infectious disease spread in hospitals seldom account for interfacility patient sharing. This is particularly important for pathogens with prolonged incubation periods or carrier states.
We quantified patient sharing among all 32 hospitals in Orange County (OC), California, using hospital discharge data. Same-day transfers between hospitals were considered “direct” transfers, and events in which patients were shared between hospitals after an intervening stay at home or elsewhere were considered “indirect” patient-sharing events. We assessed the frequency of readmissions to another OC hospital within various time points from discharge and examined interhospital sharing of patients with Clostridium difficile infection.
In 2005, OC hospitals had 319,918 admissions. Twenty-nine percent of patients were admitted at least twice, with a median interval between discharge and readmission of 53 days. Of the patients with 2 or more admissions, 75% were admitted to more than 1 hospital. Ninety-four percent of interhospital patient sharing occurred indirectly. When we used 10 shared patients as a measure of potential interhospital exposure, 6 (19%) of 32 hospitals “exposed” more than 50% of all OC hospitals within 6 months, and 17 (53%) exposed more than 50% within 12 months. Hospitals shared 1 or more patient with a median of 28 other hospitals. When we evaluated patients with C. difficile infection, 25% were readmitted within 12 weeks; 41% were readmitted to different hospitals, and less than 30% of these readmissions were direct transfers.
In a large metropolitan county, interhospital patient sharing was a potential avenue for transmission of infectious agents. Indirect sharing with an intervening stay at home or elsewhere composed the bulk of potential exposures and occurred unbeknownst to hospitals.