Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Houston VA Tackles Spread of Deadly Bacteria - Both In and Out of the Hospital

October 18, 2007

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If you are in the hospital, you can protect yourself by frequently using the antimicrobial soap or the alcohol hand cleaner in your room and found throughout the hospital. Wash and clean your hands as you enter and leave your room, and ask all visitors, including health care providers, to do the same. Above, Nursing Unit 3A Staff Nurse Tryphosia M. Tucker, LVN shows U.S. Army Veteran Trinidade Limon how to use the alcohol hand cleaner outside his room.

 

HOUSTON - MRSA is the acronym for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a strain of staph bacteria resistant to most antibiotics normally used to treat infections.

MRSA was first identified in hospitals in 1968, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It remained confined to health care facilities for decades. That changed in the 1990s, as a new type of MRSA began showing up in healthy, non-hospitalized people. Called community-associated MRSA, this infection has been known to spread among athletes who compete on school teams or work out at local gyms.

But, you do not have to be an athlete to get it. Anyone who has a cut or a scrape and comes in close personal contact with someone carrying the germ is at risk. Not everyone who carries MRSA is sick; healthy people often carry the germ on their skin and do not get sick unless it enters the body, usually through a wound.

MRSA starts as redness on the skin and is sometimes misdiagnosed as a spider bite.  It then develops into a sore or a boil. The sores can fester and spread, leading to blood infections or pneumonia. In some cases, MRSA can be fatal.

Anyone can get MRSA, but you are more at risk:

  • If you are over age 65.
  • If you have a chronic disease like diabetes, cancer, or heart disease.
  • If you have a break in your skin, from surgery, sores, or scrapes.
  • If you have any tubes in your body, fresh surgery wounds, or openings in your skin.
  • If you are in a crowded place like a hospital, nursing home, or day care center.

You can get MRSA the same way you catch the common cold, by touching someone or something that has MRSA on it and then touching your eyes, nose, or skin. MRSA can live on people and surfaces like computer keyboards, TV remotes, telephones, and shopping carts for weeks.

When you have MRSA, you can pass it to others without knowing it. However, you can kill MRSA by using effective cleaning methods. Common sense hygiene practices - such as frequent hand washing, showering soon after contact sports, not sharing personal items, and spraying down frequently used items with a mild bleach solution before using - go a long way to preventing infection.    

You can avoid passing MRSA to others by washing and cleaning your hands. It is also important to remind others to wash and clean their hands. It is okay to ask your health care provider if he or she has washed theirs.

If you are in the hospital, you can protect yourself and others by telling all your health care providers if you are a MRSA carrier, especially before you have surgery. Use the antimicrobial soap or the alcohol hand cleaner frequently in your room and found throughout the hospital. Wash and clean your hands as you enter and leave your room, and ask all visitors, including health care providers, to do the same. If you use a wheelchair, wash and clean your hands often, and wash and clean wheelchair gloves every day.

At home, you can protect your family and others from MRSA by washing and cleaning your hands before and after you care for yourself or others who have MRSA. Tell family members and others in close contact to wash and clean their hands. Wash and clean your hands before holding or feeding a child.

Always cover wounds or skin lesions with clean dry bandages. Wash and clean your hands and put on clean disposable gloves to change bandages, clean a wound, and touch a wound or a dirty bandage. After caring for a wound, remove gloves so they are inside out, do not touch the outside of the gloves, make sure gloves are disposed of carefully, never touch the used gloves after they are off your hands, and wash and clean your hands again.

It is also helpful to clean rooms and personal items daily. You can use a store-bought disinfectant (cleaner) or make your own by mixing one tablespoon of bleach in one quart of water. Wash soiled linens and clothes with regular laundry detergent. Wash utensils and dishes as usual, with dish detergent and hot water. Use a dishwasher if you can.

As part of its fight against the spread of MRSA, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center has teamed up with 18 other VA medical facilities for the VA MRSA Prevention Initiative, “Getting to Zero.” The goal of this important health care effort is to improve the safety and quality of life for our nation’s veterans.

The MEDVAMC uses the “MRSA Bundle” as its prevention strategy. These measures include (1) Active Surveillance cultures (swabbing performed on admission, discharge, and transfer within the hospital); (2) Hand Hygiene (before and after patient contact); (3) Contact Precautions (gloves and gowns); and (4) Cultural Transformation (staff and leadership engagement).

In addition, MRSA is prevented from spreading by placing veterans who test positive for MRSA in private rooms or with other patients who have the same germ. It is our policy to give antibiotics for MRSA only to patients who have symptoms and are sick with MRSA or who have surgery. This is to prevent MRSA from becoming resistant to current treatments.

In April 2007, the MEDVAMC was the first hospital in Texas and in the VA to install a computerized system able to integrate all the steps required for surveillance MRSA testing: sample preparation, amplification, and detection. 

To find out more about MRSA and prevention measures, contact the MEDVAMC Infection Control Office at (713) 794-7808.t Patricia A. Byers, RM, M(ASCP), CIC, Infection Control Practitioner