Are you and your patients in safe hands?

Are you and your patients in safe hands?

Battling the risk of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aures
Jan 01, 2008

Figure 1: Blood agar plate illustrating growth of transient bacteria on the fingers of the right hand of a hospital employee after administering a routine inoculation. These bacteria were incubated at 37-degrees centigrade for 24 hours.
Have you read or heard about the crisis associated with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) that is sweeping across the United States? Hospitals, nursing homes, schools, sports facilities, correctional facilities and child day-care centers are reporting outbreaks of human nosocomial infections with methicillin-resistant staphylococci.

MRSA is a type of bacteria that is resistant to certain antibiotics. These antibiotics include methicillin and other more-common antibiotics such as oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin. Staph infections, including MRSA, occur most frequently among persons in hospitals and health-care facilities (such as nursing homes and dialysis centers) who have weakened immune systems. MRSA infections that occur in otherwise healthy people who have not been recently (within the past year) hospitalized or had a medical procedure (such as dialysis, surgery, catheters) are known as community-associated MRSA infections. These infections usually are skin infections, such as abscesses, boils and other pus-filled lesions.

Three-inch headlines on the front page of the Sunday issue of the Dec. 2, 2007 Star Tribune, the leading newspaper in Minneapolis/St. Paul, screamed, "Stalking a superbug." The headline was followed by the following statement in bold print: "As the MRSA outwits science's best weapons, a UM microbiologist is at the forefront of finding ways to conquer the deadly bacteria." This message was followed by a photograph of Paul Schlievert, a University of Minnesota microbiologist, transferring MRSA from one Petri dish to another. He did not appear to be wearing any type of protective barriers except a white lab coat. He was further described in this way: "In the war between killer bugs and humanity, Schlievert is one of the generals. As an expert on staph and toxic shock with 30 years' experience, he is comfortable handling the bacteria without gloves, because (the gloves) are not always foolproof. But, he uses exacting safety precautions and washes his hands often."

Have you considered the risks associated with MRSA and the chance that you may be exposed to this potentially lethal microbe? Sometimes MRSA leads to a toxic-shock syndrome; on occasion virulent strains of MRSA act as flesh-eating bacteria. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 2 million patients in the United States each year get an infection in hospitals, and about 90,000 of these patients die as a result of their infections. Virulent strains of MRSA contributed to the deaths of at least 19,000 people in 2005.

What about your hospital or clinic? Is it a safe environment for you, your employees and/or colleagues and your patients? Is MRSA lurking there? Although MRSA was once primarily a problem for humans, overuse and misuse of antimicrobial medications appear to be associated with a rise in MRSA infections in horses, dogs, cats, pigs, dairy cattle and chickens. Results of some studies suggest that MRSA can be directly spread from humans to animals, and vice-versa.

How can you protect yourself and your associates from being infected with virulent microbes like MRSA? There is undeniable evidence that one of the most effective methods of minimizing the spread of MRSA is a low-tech procedure. It is known as hand hygiene and primarily consists of properly and frequently washing and moisturizing your hands.

In human and veterinary hospitals, it has been convincingly established that proper hand hygiene is the single most cost-effective procedure to minimize nosocomial infections. Yet several recent studies indicate that hand washing is the most violated of all infection-control procedures. Is this statement applicable to your hospital? How often have you forgotten or neglected to wash your hands? In terms of proper hand-hygiene technique, are you a role model for your staff? If your situation is like mine, there is room for improvement. Would you like to minimize everyone's chances of becoming a victim of MRSA? Please consider the following points: