The role of patient isolation and compliance with isolation practices in the control of nosocomial MRSA in acute care

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Nosocomial infection remains the most common complication of hospitalisation. Despite infection control efforts, nosocomial methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) transmission continues to rise. Various isolation practices are used to minimise MRSA transmission in acute care. However, the effectiveness of these practices has seldom been evaluated.


This review sought to evaluate the efficacy of isolation practices in minimising MRSA transmission in the acute hospital setting and explore staff, visitor and patient compliance with isolation practices. This review updates a review published in 2002.

Search strategy

A systematic search for relevant published or unpublished English language literature was undertaken using electronic databases, the reference lists of retrieved papers and the Internet. This extended the search published in the original review. Databases searched included: Medline, CINAHL, EMBASE, Cochrane Library and Joanna Briggs Institute Evidence Library.

Selection criteria

All English language research reports published between 1990 and August 2005 that focused on the role of isolation practices on the nosocomial transmission of MRSA in adult, paediatric or neonatal acute care settings were eligible for inclusion in the review. Studies that evaluated multiple infection control strategies or control of MRSA outbreaks were excluded. The main outcome of interest was the incidence of new cases of MRSA. The secondary outcome was staff, visitor and patient compliance with the isolation practices.

Data collection and analysis

Two reviewers assessed each paper against the inclusion criteria and a validated quality scale. Data extraction was undertaken using a tool designed specifically for this review. Statistical comparisons of findings were not possible, so findings are presented in a narrative form.


Seven studies met the inclusion criteria. Given the small number of included studies and variable methodological quality, care must be taken when interpreting the review findings. There is some evidence that cessation of single room isolation and cohorting of MRSA patients does not increase nosocomial MRSA transmission when hand-washing compliance and standard precautions are maintained. Indeed, there is some evidence that reduced MRSA transmission can be achieved by improving compliance with contact precautions alone.


The low level of hand hygiene compliance reported in the literature suggests that staff compliance with isolation practices is a significant factor in evaluating any infection-controlled intervention in the clinical setting. While staff compliance data are conflicting, regular audit and feedback of performance may improve compliance.

Implications for clinical practice

The heterogeneous nature of the topic and methodological weaknesses of included studies impairs the ability to aggregate data and develop specific practice recommendations.

Implications for clinical practice

While this review presents evidence to suggest that ceasing single room or cohort isolation does not lead to increased MRSA transmission, these studies maintained high levels of hand hygiene or standard precautions. Additionally, the role of extraneous factors, such as environmental reservoirs, specific MRSA strains and patient mix, is unclear. None of the included studies measured financial, social or psychological factors associated with isolation practices. There is an urgent need for well-designed research with significant sample sizes to develop an evidence base upon which to underpin future clinical practice.

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