Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA, is a type of staph bacteria that does not respond to treatment by certain antibiotics.
MRSA was discovered in the early 1960s and was, for the most part, restricted to hospitals and medical environments.
A review of recent news articles where both student and professional athletes have contracted MRSA skin infections tell us that MRSA can occur anywhere — including the workplace.
Let's review how certain factors contribute to the transmission of MRSA.
Referred to as the "five Cs," those factors are: Crowding; frequent skin-to-skin contact; compromised skin — cuts or abrasions; contaminated items and surfaces; and lack of cleanliness.
Locations where the five Cs are common include schools, dormitories, military barracks, households, correctional facilities, daycare centers and long-term care facilities.
Locations not to be overlooked in the business and manufacturing sections are locker and shower facilities and break rooms.
As facilities and building services providers, cleaning professionals are frequently exposed to contaminated items and surfaces, and due to their exposure to many cleaning chemicals, may have compromised skin.
Such conditions increase possible MRSA transmittal to the cleaning staff.
According to Infection Control Today, Staphylococcus aureus can remain viable — capable of living, developing or germinating under favorable conditions — for up to 56 days after common materials are contaminated.
Common materials include linens, telephones, bathroom fixtures, light switches, etc., with which a person with MRSA may have come into contact.
Surfaces cleaned less frequently and with products providing less thorough cleaning may additionally contribute to transmittal concerns.
According to an industry survey, 44 percent of service providers have reduced their cleaning frequencies in an effort to save labor costs.
Eighteen percent have also switched to lower grade or off-brand consumables such as hand soaps and cleaning chemicals.
Lower grade products may not offer the same level of disinfectant and, as a result, leave higher levels of bacteria on hands and work surfaces.
Cleaning efficacy of hand soaps and cleaning chemicals is also compromised if diluted with water to "stretch" the number of uses of the product.
Proper handling and washing of uniforms and towels, thorough cleansing of surfaces and limiting skin-to-skin contact by use of personal protective equipment (PPE) all assist the cleaning professional in protecting themselves from MRSA.
However, a critical factor in infection control is perhaps the most simple and most economical: Handwashing.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tell us that proper handwashing is the single most important action each of us can perform to help stop the spread of diseases.
Handwashing instructions populate many websites, and even puppet characters on children's television programming deliver the handwashing message.
After countless stories from local, state and national press outlets reminding us to wash our hands, one might assume that the public has become better educated in the importance of proper hand hygiene in the fight against the transmission of diseases, particularly after the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
In that survey, participants were asked if the threat of H1N1 had changed the frequency of their handwashing.
Surprisingly, the majority of those surveyed had not altered their handwashing habits, even during the time of H1N1 pandemic.
In fact, 54 percent of the 1,020 participants indicated they did not wash their hands more frequently, nor did they wash less frequently, in public restroom facilities as a result of the virus threat.
This lack of attention to proper hand hygiene puts each of us at risk for transmitting and acquiring potentially fatal infections like MRSA.
It also increases the possibility of getting intestinal and respiratory infections — and even occupational dermatitis.
These illnesses contribute to workplace absenteeism, increased demands upon the time of health care providers and escalation of the costs of health care with insurance companies.
The Costs Of Poor Hand Hygiene
Employers who do not consider the possibility that dermatitis from a lack of hand hygiene practices may occur at their workplace could be making a very costly mistake.
Results provided in a recent study published in the Archives of Dermatology of the American Medical Association clearly demonstrate the significant financial impact to business that occupational dermatitis claims represent.
For starters, dermatitis on the job was found to account for nearly 15 percent of total workplace injuries, putting it among the most prevalent of occupational disorders.
In addition, the mean cost per dermatitis claim — including total temporary disability, medical treatment, partial permanent disability and vocational rehabilitation — was found to be $3,552.35.
Equally impacting a company's productivity was the documented average disability time of 23.9 days.
Be advised, however, that MRSA is far more expensive to treat than occupational dermatitis.
According to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), a single case of MRSA can exceed $60,000 in treatment.
Those costs do not include loss of income and other hardships faced by the patient, nor do they include expenses incurred by the employer in covering shifts or training new personnel.
The ultimate price can also be paid should MRSA be acquired.
MRSA infections can be deadly, with an estimated 19,000 persons dying annually.
Protecting Your Cleaning Professionals
It cannot be said too often: Wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water and dry thoroughly.
"A study published in the American Journal of Infection Control found that use of a hand wash with one percent triclosan helped eliminate MRSA from a hospital setting," states Richard Schmidt, business development manager for STOKO Skin Care. "This hand wash formulation would also be perfect for use in athletic settings of schools and universities where there is a high prevalence of MRSA."
In situations where handwashing facilities are not readily available, use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is recommended.
Other steps to help protect your cleaning professionals are to educate them on the importance of not sharing personal items such as uniforms, PPE, towels, razors, etc., and to always keep skin wounds clean and covered with protective bandages.
How Prevalent Is MRSA?
There is increasing prevalence of MRSA in non-hospital settings.
According to the CDC, 25 percent to 30 percent of the population is colonized with staph bacteria in the nose.
"Colonized" means that the bacteria are present but are not causing an infection.
In the U.S., staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infections, pneumonia, bloodstream infections and infections in surgical wounds.
While the majority of MRSA cases are hospital acquired (HA), it is becoming more common in the general populace and is referred to as community acquired (CA).
In summary, practicing proper hand hygiene as part of your infection control process will help protect your cleaning professionals from the superbug MRSA.
Myra Montgomery is the marketing communication specialist for STOKO Skin Care. She has over 20 years' experience in the skin care industry and has advised many buildings and facilities on the best practices for providing effective products and programs for their operations. She may be reached at Myra.Montgomery@evonik.com.