By JEFFERSON WEAVER
officials hope encouraging better hygiene and following strict
protocols can prevent the MRSA virus from becoming more of a problem in
Columbus Regional already has close
enforcement of hand hygiene and patient isolation rules to avoid spread
of the drug-resistant bug. The infection has been blamed for several
deaths across the country in recent weeks, and is turning up in
previously unaffected portions of the population.
Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA or simply staph, was
previously rare outside of hospitals and nursing homes, but in recent
years the virulent strain of MRSA has begun appearing in schools,
prisons, and the general population.
Dufour, who is in charge of Infection Control and Employee Health at
Columbus Regional, said the hospital was already on a prevention
platform for the disease, which has no vaccination of cure.
been monitoring it closely,” Dufour said. “That’s been the case since
2005, when we became aware this could be a growing problem.”
MRSA, according to the state Department of Health, can be treated with
medicines. Hospital-associated MRSA, the more virulent strain, is the
one doctors are worried about.
The disease became a
major concern to health officials in the 1990s, when people with no
connection to medical facilities began showing signs of HA-MRSA.
variation of the disease was noticed in 2005 in North Carolina. Day
care centers and schools have been the hardest hit by the disease,
which the Centers for Disease control estimates will kill more people
than the AIDS virus next year.
MRSA infections can appear as a spider or infected insect bite.
changes into a “red hot pimple,” Dufour said, and may be followed by
flu-like symptoms. The disease usually causes powerful infections to
the rest of the body.
MRSA is carried by many people who never exhibit symptoms or get sick.
“A lot of people can be colonized in their skin, nose or armpits,” Dufour said, “and never show an active infection.”
The disease is spread through skin-to-skin contact, or by extended
contact with articles that carry the germ, like towels, washcloths and
razors. MRSA can also be transmitted through the handles of shopping
carts, telephones and athletic equipment.
said medical professionals are eyeing the bug because it is appearing
in greater numbers in the general population. The hospital has taken a
strong preventative stance on the disease, Dufour said.
are concerned,” she said. “MRSA has always been there, especially in
hospitals and nursing homes, but when it started moving out into other
places it became even more serious.”
The hospital already checks nursing home or long-term care patients for MRSA, Dufour said.
a patient tests positive for the bug – either through an active case or
by being colonized, or carrying the disease – he or she is isolated
from other patients. Staff members also wear gowns and other protective
gear whenever they treat a colonized patient.
practice strict handwashing hygiene throughout the hospital,” Dufour
said, “and we encourage anyone visiting the hospital to do the same.”
with alcohol-based sanitizers are set up throughout the hospital, and
some members of the staff carry individual bottles.
It’s a habit Dufour said health officials encourage for the general population, too.
can get the personal size bottles almost anywhere,” she said. “There
are small ones that fit perfectly in a child’s lunchbox or bookbag, and
everyone should have some available if they go to a store or other
public place where contact is likely.”
The germ commonly turns up in infants with skin abcesses, Dufour said, and children who spend time in close quarters.
state Department of Health has issued special advisories on MRSA for
schools and athletic organizations, since a 17-year-old Virginia youth
contracted the disease while playing high school sports.
Several members of a North Carolina high school team were also infected recently and are being treated.
Health clubs and gyms have also been put on notice, Dufour said,
because the germ can be spread through sweat from an infected person.
at risk are people with poor general hygiene, anyone who lives in a
confined space, intravenous drug users, and people with chronic
illnesses such as renal failure or diabetes.
“If you’re in generally good health, “ Dufour said, “just keep an eye on anything suspicious.”
While there is no antibiotic that can treat the disease, Dufour said there is a simple way to prevent it.
handwashing hygiene is the best preventative,” she said. “Washing your
hands in warm soapy water for 15 to 20 seconds will eliminate much of
Dufour said there has been a rise in calls
to area doctors about the disease, especially from concerned parents
and people who notice insect bites.
“Not every bite or
pimple is MRSA,” Dufour said. Keep any suspicious wound clean, dry and
covered, Dufour said, and if there is no improvement in a few days,
“call your doctor.”
The wound will then be drained and
the infection tested to determine if the patient has staph, Dufour
said. Sometimes the problem can be treated with draining by a doctor.
The disease has historically struck older people, Dufour said, but the
new strain is increasingly taking aim at young people, especially
avoid spreading the disease, the hospital has also asked that parents
not allow young children to crawl into hospital beds with patients.
hate to have to say something like that,” Dufour said, “but if a person
is infected, and a little one crawls into bed with grandma – then you
have two infected people, not just one.”
Both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the state Department of Health have set up a special website on MRSA.
For more on diagnosing and preventing the spread of the disease, go to
the state site at http://www.epi.state.nc.us/epi/gcdc/ca_mrsa, or the federal
site at http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dhqp/ar_mrsa_ca_public.html.
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