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Debunking myths about MRSA

By late October 2007, the news was brimming with stories about MRSA. I had not known much about this “Super Bug” until my son, a Tyrone High School football player, brought home information from his coach during conditioning practices in late August. These papers outlined precautions that the team would take to prevent the spread of this infection.
When schools began confirming reported cases of MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), widespread rumors and misinformation proliferated among the community, state, and across the nation. Parents yanked their children from classrooms, and schools canceled sporting events or moved them to facilities believed to be unaffected by the potentially deadly bacteria.
With the start of the new school year quickly approaching, we need to review the facts and debunk the myths. Facts are the best way to prevent prevalent misconceptions and unnecessary worry. Let’s take a look at exactly what MRSA is and how we can protect our loved ones and ourselves.
What is MRSA?
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s website (www.health.pa.state.us), “Staphylococcus aureus, often referred to simply as ‘staph’, is commonly carried on the skin or in the nose of healthy people. Sometimes staph can cause an infection. Staph is among the most common causes of skin infections in the United States. Most of these skin infections are minor, such as pimples and boils, and can be treated without antibiotics. But in some instances, staph can cause serious infections, such as surgical wound infections, bloodstream infections, and pneumonia. MRSA is a type of staph that is resistant to the antibiotic methicillin and its close cousins oxacillin, penicillin, and amoxicillin. While 25% to 30% of the population is colonized with staph, only about 1% normally carries MRSA.”
Given this definition, let’s look at some popular misconceptions about MRSA.
MYTH # 1: MRSA is a brand-new
health concern.
In his letter sent to the parents of students enrolled in the Tyrone Area School District, Superintendent Bill Miller states, “MRSA has been around since 1963. For years, MRSA was confined to hospitals. But it began appearing in the general population during the late 1990s and is being seen more outside hospitals and nursing homes.” Healthcare workers have been familiar with this for decades.
MYTH # 2: MRSA is a deadly “Super Bug”. It’s easy to catch and hard to prevent.
Actually, the best prevention is simple: frequent hand-washing and proper hygiene. DiAmanda Murray, a Registered Nurse for the past 20 years currently with the Altoona Regional Health System in Altoona, Pennsylvania, offers, “Most people panicked when they heard about the recent outbreaks in the schools. What they need to focus on is that frequent hand-washing and good personal hygiene, especially not sharing sports equipment, is the best way to prevent it.” Peter Kreckel, a local pharmacist, echoes this straightforward advice, “Frequent hand-washing is the most effective prevention. Also, do not share personal items like towels and soaps. If an outbreak were to occur, wash frequently with a pharmaceutical grade antimicrobial soap such as Hibiclens, an over-the-counter pharmacy product. Peter’s wife, Denise, also a local pharmacist, proposes this clever idea, “Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, the amount of time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song.”
MYTH # 3: Shaking hands or bumping into people will spread MRSA.
“The ease of transmission is false. There must be an open cut or abrasion on the skin. Most likely, it’s an untreated cut, a cut the person doesn’t realize they have,” Peter Kreckel concludes. Again referring to the Pennsylvania Department of Health website: “The main mode of spread of all forms of staph, including MRSA, is by skin-to-skin contact, crowded conditions, or poor hygiene.”
There are two types of MRSA: hospital-associated MRSA and community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA). The former occurs in healthcare settings like hospitals, nursing homes, and dialysis centers to patients with weakened immune systems. DiAmanda Murray explains, “One myth I have encountered is that community-based MRSA and hospital-based MRSA are the same thing. They are not. CA-MRSA occurs in people who have NOT been treated at a hospital within the last year.” Peter Kreckel adds, “We’ve been battling hospital MRSA for years, and it results from invasive procedures. Community MRSA requires skin-to-skin transmission. These are two very distinct pathogens.”
MYTH # 4: MRSA is just a school – elementary, high school, and college –
problem.
As reported in the Daily Herald on October 20, 2007, “Infections can be contracted anywhere there is close contact, including health clubs, locker rooms, gymnasiums, prisons, and military facilities. Individuals should wash their hands before and after touching or dressing an infected area, after using the restroom, after blowing your nose, before handling or eating food, before handling newborn babies, and after touching or handling unwashed clothing or linen.” These circumstances can occur anywhere groups of people congregate that promote damp or sweaty environments, not just schools.
MYTH # 5: Sanitizing products must be alcohol-based to work properly.
Chuck Banas, the owner of Healthy Alternatives in Bald Eagle, Pennsylvania, provides a foaming hand sanitizer called X3, which contains no alcohol, dye, or odor. “Our X3 product contains benzalkonium chloride, not alcohol. Changes in technology made that possible. Independent lab results have shown this is totally effective in combating the spread of MRSA.” Denise Kreckel warns that overuse of alcohol-based products can occur in school-age children. “Children lick the product on their skin, and it has been known to cause alcohol intoxication in elementary schools.”
MYTH # 6: Antibiotic usage will cure everything.
Peter Kreckel cautions, “People must be judicious with antibiotic usage. Eighty percent (80%) of all respiratory infections do not require an antibiotic. In the 1940s, penicillin was available and worked great on staph infections. It was overused, so by the 1950s, we began using methicillin. It was effective, but again didn’t last long, from overuse.” DiAmanda Murray agrees, “MRSA is part of a larger problem of antibiotic resistance. Unnecessary use of antibiotics has been a great contributor to the rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria.”
For more information, please visit these websites:
Pennsylvania Department of Health: www.health.state.pa.us
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov
X3 Hand Sanitizer: www.X3clean.com