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Preventing MRSA at work

March 1, 2011

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Infections related to MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) have become the most common type of skin infection seen in emergency rooms. What can I do to help prevent an outbreak at my workplace?

Answered by Gary Burris, head of first aid training, Tec Laboratories Inc., Albany, OR.

Since the first antibiotics were used more than 50 years ago to kill bacteria and stop infections, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus has been lurking in the shadows. It is a highly aggressive strain of staph bacteria that has developed a resistance to nearly every antibiotic ever developed. MRSA bacteria can quickly mutate and grow stronger when attempts are made to kill them. So, it is a sure bet that, in time, MRSA will become resistant to any antibiotic currently used to thwart it.

MRSA can enter the body’s bloodstream and wreak absolute havoc on an otherwise healthy person. It can lead to death when the bacteria invade vital organs, such as the heart or lungs, and shut them down with an infection.

There is another big reason to try and prevent an infection before it starts. According to Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, the average cost to treat a MRSA bacteremia (invasion of the body) is $34,000.

The good news is MRSA can largely be prevented. The challenge in preventing this type of infection in a work environment is that MRSA can live on nearly any surface. Adding to the problem is the fact that MRSA bacteria thrive on human skin – especially if the skin is warm and moist like that of a person doing manual labor.

In a work setting, the No. 1 way MRSA enters the body is through a break in the skin. Four significant prevention procedures can help keep workers free of a MRSA infection:

  • Wash hands regularly. Because a person’s hands come in contact with various surfaces and objects on a continual basis, it is necessary to thoroughly wash hands regularly with soap and warm water.
  • Treat and cover wounds. Skin is one of our main forms of protection against MRSA. However, a break in the skin from a minor cut, scrape or burn is all the insidious invader needs to enter the body and, eventually, the bloodstream. Therefore, it is crucial to treat all minor wounds as if there is the likelihood of infection. That means cleansing the wound area and applying some sort of anti-infective to help kill the bacteria before it enters the body. Ask if your first aid supplier carries topical wound-care products to help prevent MRSA infections. Finally, cover the wound with a sterile bandage or gauze of some sort.
  • Shower after physical activity. With the increasing popularity of scented body sprays to cover up odor, there has been a shift away from showering after physical activities. Because warm, moist skin is the prime breeding ground for bacteria such as MRSA and staph, employees should be encouraged to shower as soon as possible after physical activity.
  • Educate employees about MRSA. Education is key to helping prevent an outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (www.cdc.gov) is an excellent source for training information and materials related to MRSA. 

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