Maryland, Hopkins share in CDC award to fight germs

Maryland, Hopkins use CDC money to fight infectious disease.

Two Baltimore institutions will share in $11 million in funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aimed at preventing the spread of germs — a deadly and costly problem in hospitals and other health care settings.

The University of Maryland School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins Medicine have long been involved in developing technology and protocols to control infections in patients and health care workers. Each will get just over $2 million over three years. Four other facilities will split the remainder.

The institutions will continue researching methods of stopping the spread of the flu virus, antibiotic-resistant bacteria and Ebola, for example. They also will determine ways to increase adherence to protocols that have proved effective.

Under the CDC program, begun in 1997, other centers already have received CDC funds to accelerate infection control innovations. The $11 million in new funding brings more researchers into the effort.

"It can be difficult and challenging to prevent the spread of dangerous diseases in health care facilities," Dr. Thomas Frieden, the CDC's director, said in a statement. "To protect Americans, it's critical that we develop the cutting-edge science needed to stay ahead of the germs. The six institutions receiving these funds are doing just that."

At Maryland, Dr. Anthony D. Harris, professor of epidemiology and public health, will lead the project. He plans to continue work focused on how the Ebola virus spreads when workers remove protective suits and ways to disinfect, how germs spread between hospital and nursing home workers and patients and ways to stop it, and the usefulness of increasing worker hand-washing during interactions with patients.

Harris, who is also president of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, said antibiotic-resistant infections are rising, making it hard for scientists to keep up. The funding will keep research going and likely involve collaboration among institutions.

The research has potential to save thousands of lives, he said.

"A lot of times, guidelines are based on what we think works, but there's not been the highest level of science," he said. "This will help create better science at all levels."

At Hopkins, a team will be lead by Dr. Peter Pronovost, director of the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality, and Dr. Lisa Maragakis, senior director of Healthcare Epidemiology and Infection Control for the Hopkins health system.

They will also examine new ways of preventing health care-associated transmission of Ebola and other viral and bacterial infectious pathogens. Specifically, they will work on developing new robotic technologies for infection prevention and enhancing protective gear, identifying where in the infection transmission process interventions work best, testing strategies used in caring for infected patients and training everyone in a facility on infection prevention methods.

The CDC says past work done with program funding has helped stop the spread of infectious diseases in health care settings. Scientists have, for example, demonstrated the benefit of skin antiseptics and nasal decolonization in stopping infection spread in intensive care units, reduced drug-resistant and bloodstream infections, and gotten patients off ventilators and out of hospitals sooner.

Other newly funded institutions include Emory University; the University of Illinois, Chicago; the University of Iowa; and the University of Utah.

Others already funded include Cook County Health & Hospital System and Rush University Medical Center; Duke University; Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and the University of California, Irvine; the University of Pennsylvania; and Washington University.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

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