Marsh column: Prevent MRSA with good hygiene

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 26, 2009

Q: I contracted community-acquired MRSA at a hotel at the beach. Can you explain MRSA to everyone and preventative measures you take as a YMCA and what people can do to prevent it from happening to them?
A: Definitely! First let look at what MRSA stands for. MRSA ó Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus (“staph”) Aureus. MRSA are a type of staph bacteria that are resistant to many antibiotics. Staph bacteria, like other kinds of bacteria, normally live on your skin and in your nose (yikes!), usually without causing problems. MRSA is different from other types of staph because it cannot be treated with certain antibiotics such as methicillin. (That is where that name came from.)
Hospital-acquired MRSA (HA-MRSA) occur in people with weak immune systems, usually patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities.
Community-acquired MRSA (CA-MRSA) is a rapidly emerging public health problem. Over the past several years, MRSA infections in people not considered high-risk increased.
Clusters of CA-MRSA skin infections have been documented among athletes participating in contact sports, military recruits, IV drug users and prisoners, to name a few groups.
Factors that have been associated with the spread of CA-MRSA skin infections in otherwise healthy people include close skin-to-skin contact, openings in the skin such as cuts or abrasions, contaminated items and surfaces, crowded living conditions and poor hygiene. However, children and adults have developed CA-MRSA infections without any known risk factors. As your doctor mentioned to you, you possibly acquired your case of MRSA in the hot tub in the hotel at the beach. That is why the YMCA goes through the trouble and expense of “dumping” all the water in our hot tub at least once a week if not twice a week ó a lot different from lots of hotel tubs which are changed annually. There is a certain level the chlorine has to be at ó we stay towards the high end of that level. We purposely do so to prevent contaminations and infections.
How MRSA presents itself: Many patients think they have a spider bite. The “bites” all look about the same ó a red coin-size boil with a darker, central black spot. Some lesions have already started draining pus. If you have a boil or are not sure what it is, go see your doctor and have him or her diagnose you and treat your boil or lesion. Do not try to “pop” it yourself. This may spread the infection.
How can I prevent getting or spreading MRSA?
– Practice good hygiene. Keep your hands clean by washing them frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (conveniently located throughout our YMCA, especially our weight rooms).
– Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage and avoid contact with other people’s wounds or bandages (or wear gloves when you do so).
– Do not share razors and towels.
– Be smart in using antibiotics. When your doctor says you don’t need it, or it would be better not to take it, believe him or her. MRSA is also called “super bug” because it has become immune to many antibiotics. While some antibiotics still work, MRSA is constantly adapting and researchers are having a hard time keeping up.
If you have an infection with MRSA, you can keep from spreading the bacteria.
– Cover your wound with clean, dry bandages and follow your doctor’s instruction on caring for the wound.
– Keep your hands clean. You, your family and anyone with whom you are in close contact should wash their hands frequently with warm water and soap, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after changing the bandage or touching the wound.
– Again, do not share razors, towels, clothing or other items that may have had contact with your wound or bandage. Wash your sheets, towels and clothes with warm water and detergent and dry them in a hot dryer if possible.
– Keep your environment clean by wiping frequently touched surfaces such as counter tops, doorknobs and light switches with a disinfectant.
Let’s fight this so-called “super bug,” shall we?
Contact Ester Marsh with health and fitness questions at 704-636-0111 or