Culturing suspicious wounds keeps MRSA outbreaks at bay, underscores Nancy Booth, an employee with the Medical Division of the San Diego (California) Sheriff's Department. "Culturing a wound better identifies the organism you're dealing with and the antibiotics to treat it with," she explains.
In San Diego's seven jails, housing more than 5,000 inmates on any given day, MRSA was a recurring affliction until the organization began questioning inmates about sores they had, where and when they felt they might have gotten them, and any other symptoms they had upon arrival to the facility. Doctors now perform wound cultures upon admission and administer antibiotics if necessary, and the facility segregates affected inmates from the rest of the jail population until they heal. Since implementing these steps, Booth reports San Diego jails have seen MRSA cases drop more than 20 percent.Listen to your mother
In discussions about MRSA it appears your mother was right when she told you to wash your hands. Hand washing ranks as the top protection against MRSA and other super bugs. It's so important that: Booth developed a hand washing protocol for San Diego deputies and placed waterless soap dispensers throughout every facility; San Diego equipped ambulances and fire trucks with similar dispensers; and many patrol officers have begun carrying hand sanitizers within their squads and using them after every contact with the public.
Your mother was also right when she scoured your skinned knee with hydrogen peroxide, as you sat there and screamed, then applied antibiotic ointment and covered it with a bandage. "You have to be more vigilant than you used to be when you nick yourself," Dunford clarifies. "Some people think if you cut yourself, kind of suck it clean, and cover it with a Band-Aid, you're protected. But MRSA seeks out breaks in the skin and has a ready ability to invade."
Your mother was also right when she told you not to pick your nose, adds Dunford, who points out that staph lives in a person's anterior nostrils, which provide a safe haven for bacteria to live and colonize.
Universal precautions dictate that public safety officials and health care workers treat every individual as if they are infected and take precautions to minimize risk. These safety measures not only include the hygiene habits your mother taught you, they also comprise the use of gloves and other barriers, such as protective clothing, goggles and aseptic techniques. Dunford adds that these guidelines should be followed whenever possible. "Don't assume someone doesn't have MRSA," he warns. "Put your gloves on."
Surfaces also require attention after every subject contact and should be thoroughly cleaned with disinfectants designed to kill MRSA, Avian Flu and other super bugs. Officers often share lockers, gear, exercise equipment and squad cars. In the course of 24 hours, four officers and countless arrestees may occupy a single vehicle. "If that vehicle hasn't been decontaminated properly, the number of exposures quickly adds up," Tiffen says, noting he recommends agencies also disinfect other shared equipment such as spotlights, radar guns and even clipboards.
Until now, Dunford says super bug infections have been taken about as seriously as advice to not overeat. But as Fresno and other communities have learned, it's time to listen up. "You really need to pay attention to this," he says. "This is the real McCoy."Sample MRSA presentation available online
A downloadable PDF of the MRSA educational program presented by Bob Brems, an epidemiologist with MPH Zanesville/Muskingum County Health Department for the Harrison County (Ohio) Sheriff's Office is available on Officer.com at: www.officer.com/magazines/let/msra_harrison_sherrif.pdf