Americans have become increasingly aware of the “superbug” MRSA (methicillin-resistantstaphylococcus aureus) because of the number of outbreaks that have been reported among school children. However, most people don’t realize that adults are just as susceptible to getting a MRSA infection at work.
To avoid becoming infected, you need to understand what the disease is, and how to prevent it. MRSA is a type of “staph” infection. Staph is a bacterium commonly found on the skin or in the nose of healthy people; however, it can sometimes cause an infection. In fact, staph bacteria are among the most common causes of skin infections in the United States. When these infections are minor, they appear as pustules and boils, and can be easily treated without antibiotics. When the bacteria cause serious infections, such as surgical wound infections, bloodstream infections or pneumonia, they need to be treated with antibiotics.
MRSA is resistant to a type of antibiotic called methicillin and is often resistant to other antibiotics, too. According to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), between 25% and 30% of the population have staph bacteria present on their bodies, but it isn’t causing disease, and about 1% of the population carry MRSA that is not causing an infection.
The most common way a MRSA infection is transmitted is by direct skin-to-skin contact. It also can be contracted by coming into contact with items or surfaces that have been touched by someone carrying the infection. Although a MRSA infection can happen anywhere, these five conditions can facilitate its transmission:
- Overcrowding—working in close surroundings in which there are frequent incidents of rubbing against or touching co-workers.
- Direct contact—coming into frequent skin-to-skin contact with co-workers.
- Compromised skin—having an open cut or abrasion in which the bacteria can settle.
- Contaminated surfaces—commonly used surfaces such as a cafeteria table that might have been infected by someone with the disease.
- Lack of cleanliness—failure to frequently disinfect commonly used areas in a facility.
You might not be able to control how much contact you have with co-workers, but you can take steps to protect yourself. Here is what NIOSH recommends:
- Cover your wound. Keep wounds that are draining or have pus covered with clean, dry bandages. Pus from infected wounds can contain staph and MRSA, so keeping the infection covered also will help prevent the spread to others. Bandages or tape can be discarded with the regular trash.
- Clean your hands. Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after changing a bandage or touching an infected wound.
- Do not share personal items. Avoid sharing personal items such as uniforms, personal protective equipment, clothing, towels, washcloths or razors that might have had contact with an infected wound or bandage.
- Clean work clothing properly. Wash soiled uniforms and work clothing with water and laundry detergent. Dry clothes in a hot dryer, rather than by air-drying, to help kill bacteria in the clothes.
- Clean contaminated equipment and surfaces with detergent-based cleaners or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered disinfectants. This is an effective way to remove MRSA from the environment. Because cleaners and disinfectants can be irritating and exposure has been associated with health problems such as asthma, it is important to read the instruction labels on all cleaners to make sure they are used safely and appropriately. The EPA provides a list of EPA-registered products effective against MRSA, which can be found by logging on to http://epa.gov/oppad001/chemregindex.htm.
Help bring MRSA under control in your workplace by following these precautions.