Increased awareness of practices that help prevent hospital infections, such as better hand-washing and improved patient monitoring, may be helping many facilities throughout the United States fight back against dangerous, antibiotic-resistant surgical infections, reports and

Scientists working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study in the most recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which suggests that the number of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections are on the decline. The sharpest decline, researchers say, appears to be in the category of invasive health care-associated MRSA, according to the Web site.

Researchers monitored MRSA infections in nine metropolitan areas, encompassing 15 million people in the United States. From 2005 through 2008, they detected 21,503 MRSA infections, 17,508 of those, or 82 percent, were hospital-acquired infections. But they say those numbers have been trending downward since 2005 at an average rate of 9.4 percent a year. MRSA bloodstream infections showed the fastest decrease at a rate of 11.2 percent annually, reports

According to the CDC, there are more than 2 million hospital infections acquired each year, resulting in about 90,000 deaths annually. Another 1.5 million long-term care and nursing home infections occur every year, reports the Web site.

The researchers said that the reductions they noted were likely due to increased prevention efforts in hospitals as well as U.S. health care workers becoming more familiar with the peculiarities of the MRSA strains prevalent in the United States, and thus knowing how to more effectively fight them and prevent further infections, according to

“Although these data suggest progress has occurred in preventing health care–associated MRSA infections, more challenges remain,” the researchers concluded. “Increasing adherence to existing recommendations and addressing MRSA transmission and prevention beyond inpatient settings are challenges that will require further effort and investigation if eliminating the goal of preventable health care–associated invasive MRSA infections is to be attained.”