Stories tagged staphylococcus aureus

Jul
27
2007

Staphylococcus aureus: There are some other photos of staph out there, but they all seem to involve a ton of pus.     (Photo by Estherase on flickr.com)
Staphylococcus aureus: There are some other photos of staph out there, but they all seem to involve a ton of pus. (Photo by Estherase on flickr.com)Courtesy Esther Simpson
Hand washing, nose picking, good hygiene, we all know about this stuff right? Do it, do it in the sanitary privacy of your bathroom, and do it, respectively. Dirty hands spread germs, and germs spread infections – we know this, and, consequently, are as clean as a nation of whistles. Or are we?

I recently catalogued ten everyday and seemingly harmless activities that I do, and then researched their hygienic ups and downs. I urge you to follow along, see which activities you do, and then tally up your hygiene score. I think you might be surprised…

1) Put dirty laundry in the washing machine.
2) Prepare a ham sandwich.
3) Give/receive a high-five.
4) Turn on a light switch.
5) Wash your hands.
6) Clean the cat box using only your fingers.
7) Touch a friend’s face.
8) Pet the dog.
9) Hold hands with a stranger.
10) Become hospitalized.

Okay. Now, being honest, figure out your score using this key:
1) –3, 2) –1, 3) –6, 4) –5, 5) +10, 6) –15, 7) –9, 8) –4, 9) –11, 10) –31.

And, remember, if you’ve washed your hands more than once, you get points for each time. Also, if you have, say, cleaned more than one cat box with just your fingers, take away fifteen points for each time.

So… how did you score? Uh huh, I thought so.

The score for the last item, becoming hospitalized, may be something of a surprise to you. However, a recent article in The New York Times has highlighted the huge difference that increased sanitary conditions makes in cutting infection rates. Simple things like more frequent hand washing, glove wearing, and better isolating patients known to carry certain pathogens has cut infection rates in hospitals as much as 78 percent.

It seems obvious enough, although some hospital administrators are hesitant to commit to change, fearing the increased costs associated with some procedures, and citing the fact that isolated patients often receive less attention from hospital staff, and are more likely to suffer from falls, bedsores, and increased stress.

Dealing with infections acquired in the hospital, on the other hand, can be dangerous and extremely expensive. One of the main culprits is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. MRSA can be carried into hospitals by patients who demonstrate no symptoms, and can be passed by unwashed hands. If MRSA gets into a wound, it can cause anything from a painful sore to a fatal infection. By screening patients as they enter care, though, MRSA has been all but eliminated in countries like The Netherlands and Finland. Some states in the US are required to test certain high-risk patients for bacterium like MRSA, but very few hospitals screen all incoming patients.

Should the government require hospitals to screen all patients for MRSA? It’s not cheap, but it would save lives and probably money in the long run.
And could you possible think of a better way to clean the litter box than my tried-and-true bare hands method? Honestly?

Jun
28
2007

A drug-resistant strain of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus infects over 1 million US hospital patients every year: Photo from The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
A drug-resistant strain of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus infects over 1 million US hospital patients every year: Photo from The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Every year some 1.2 million Americans leave the hospital sicker than when they went in, thanks to a virulent strain of bacteria. Staphylococcus aureus (or “staph” for short) has been around forever, infecting wounds when hospitals don’t follow proper sterilization procedures. It has been treated with penicillin and antibiotics. But recently, a new strain has evolved which is immune to these treatments. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, this new strain may infect some 4.5% of all hospital patients—almost 10 times more than previously thought. Up to 119,000 people die each year from the disease.

Patients and hospitals can take steps to reduce the spread of this illness:

  • Patients at risk for the disease should be identified and tested.
  • Infected patients should be isolated.
  • Health care workers need to follow correct procedures surrounding sanitation and disinfection.
  • Antibiotics need to be used carefully and correctly.

That last point is important. Using antibiotics when they’re not needed is dangerous, as it gives more germs a chance to develop immunity. At the same time, failure to use all the antibiotics prescribed runs the risk of not killing all the germs, leaving the strongest ones alive to multiply and spread.