ATLANTA – In 2008, a skydiving accident left Josh Nahum with a fractured skull and a broken leg. He appeared to be recovering, that was until his father Armando Nahum received “the phone call from hell.”
“Eleven-thirty at night, our phone rang. Josh had coded,” Armando Nahum recalled.
Josh Nahum, a 27-year-old skydiving instructor in Colorado, never recovered; his body was overwhelmed by a bacterial infection in his brain. The elder Nahum said he learned later, when he looked at the medical records, that his son’s body had already been weakened by two bouts of the potentially deadly bacteria MRSA.
About 2 percent of people are carriers of MRSA, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but many people do not show any signs of infection. Hospital-acquired MRSA – often transmitted between patients by health care workers – kills more than 8,000 patients a year in the United States, according to the CDC. But some doctors say these numbers could be cut by 90 percent if American hospitals followed the lead of their counterparts in Scandinavia and the Netherlands.
Hospitals in Scandinavia and the Netherlands actively test patients entering the hospital for MRSA and isolate those who carry the bacteria. They call this technique “search and destroy.”
Even with the success of NorthShore University HealthSystem and countries such as the Netherlands, the CDC doesn’t recommend active detection efforts.
“There is a fair amount of controversy about how well universal screening works,” Dr. John Jernigan, the CDC’s point person for MRSA, told America Tonight. “There are a number of studies out there that have looked at this and some of the stronger studies … have not shown the benefit that we might have expected when we look at the experiences of these other countries.”
With a number of dangerous pathogens to worry about and hospitals’ limited resources, Jernigan added, “We can’t afford to be testing universally.”
Jeanine Thomas, founder the MRSA Survivors Network, said hospitals can’t afford not to test for the potentially deadly bacteria.
“There’s over 300 evidence-based studies that say screening, active detection and isolation works, and with entire countries doing it, there’s proof,” said Thomas, who contracted MRSA during ankle surgery and almost died when the infection spread to her bloodstream.
Thomas said she believes American hospitals have lobbied against active detection because they don’t want tests that could show how many patients contract MRSA while under their care.
“There’s a total lack of transparency about MRSA in the U.S.,” she said.
Because the bacteria remains dormant for days, people who contract MRSA in the hospital often don’t show symptoms until they’re back home.
Armando Nahum said he is in favor of active detection and produces videos with his wife, Victoria, promoting hand washing in hospitals.
In a recent interview in his home outside Atlanta, Nahum said his son didn’t need to die.
“As a father I could almost justify if Josh died from a skydiving accident because I’d say he chose that kind of life,” Nahum said. “But to have something else that is not even related to that kill him?”
Nahum left the question hanging in the air.