MRSA – A Stubborn Strain
Welcome to Health and Safety to Go, a production of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
Thank you for joining us for this episode of Health and Safety To Go. You may have heard it in the news recently: an athlete batting MSRA, a college cosmetology program shut down because its students contracted MSRA. Today we’re going to explain what MRSA is, who’s at risk and how can it be prevented in the workplace.
First there was
Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that continues to cause illness.
Overprescribing of antibiotics helped change it into a "superbug"
that eventually defeated methicillin, the drug that had been most effective in
fighting it. This new strain was called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus
aureus, short form for MRSA, became common in hospitals. Only a few antibiotics
are effective against some hospital strains of MRSA infection.
Meanwhile, in the 1990s, staph took on yet another form, community-associated MRSA infections in healthy people who had not been hospitalized nor had a medical procedure such as dialysis or surgery within the past year. Several drugs continue to work against this strain, but this strain of staph could also become drug-resistant in time.
It's possible to carry the staph bacteria for years without becoming sick. Sometimes it causes a minor skin problem by infecting a cut or wound. The first sign of a staph infection is usually an outbreak of small red bumps on the skin, which can soon become deep, painful abscesses that need to be surgically drained. Other signs of infection are headache, fever and lack of energy.
The bacteria may remain confined to the skin, but in more serious cases, they can go deep into the body, causing potentially life-threatening infections in bones, joints, surgical wounds, the bloodstream, heart valves and lungs. MRSA has also been known to cause urinary tract infections, pneumonia, toxic shock syndrome, and even death.
As a precaution, as soon as a pimple, insect bite, cut or scrape on the skin becomes infected, see your doctor. Rather than asking for antibiotics, ask to be tested for MRSA. Drugs that have no effect against MRSA could lead to serious illness and more resistant bacteria.
MRSA is usually spread through physical contact - not through the air. The risk factors for hospital and community strains of MRSA are different because they generally occur in different settings, however both strains are spread in the same way, mainly through person-to-person contact or contact with a contaminated item.
People who are currently or have recently been hospitalized, or live in long-term care facilities are at risk of hospital-acquired MRSA. Older adults and people with weakened immune systems, burns, surgical wounds or serious underlying health problems are vulnerable as are those on dialysis, who are catheterized, or have feeding tubes or other invasive devices. MRSA is transmitted most commonly by hands (especially health care workers' hands), which may become contaminated by contact with infected patients, or surfaces and medical devices that are contaminated with body fluids containing MRSA.
Community-associated MRSA can be especially dangerous to children, whose immune systems are not yet fully developed or who don't yet have antibodies to common germs. Elderly people and those weakened by pre-existing health issues are also susceptible, as are people whose immune systems are compromised.
Amateur and pro athletes have been known to contract community-associated MRSA from cuts, abrasions, skin-to-skin contact, shared towels or athletic equipment, or shared razors. Outbreaks have been also seen among prisoners, military recruits, daycare attendees, and injection drug users. People who have lived in crowded, unsanitary conditions, or have had close contact with health care workers, should be alert for symptoms of community-associated MRSA.
To prevent infection from MRSA and other strains of staph, it is important to follow good hygiene (hand washing) practices. If you are a healthcare worker the best way to prevent the spread of germs is to take standard infection control precautions that include washing hands frequently, properly disinfecting hospital surfaces and taking other precautions such as wearing a mask when working with people with weakened immune systems. Visitors and healthcare workers caring for infected or colonized (bacteria are present but not causing an infection) patients placed in isolation may be required to wear personal protective equipment and garments and to prevent the spread of the bacteria.
To prevent infection from community-associated MRSA - in addition to practicing good hygiene - don't share personal items that may be contaminated (towels, razors, clothing, etc.). Closely monitor skin irritations, keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with bandages until healed, and seek medical attention at the first sign of skin infection. When using a prescribed antibiotic for an illness, finish the entire prescription, even if you're feeling better. This way you will increase the chance of killing every last germ instead of leaving the few surviving ones to gain new resistance to medication.
For more information about MRSA prevention visit www.ccohs.ca, thanks for listening everyone.