EMS personnel at great risk to face MRSA infections

indfFirefighters and EMS personnel are the backbone of the U.S. national disaster program. Infection, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) in particular, is a problem with those groups. If it cannot be controlled, it’s reasonable to be concerned about how our first responders will deal with a pandemic.

Study Reveals EMS MRSA Infection Risks, at the Journal of Emergency Medical Services and authored by paramedics Alexander L. Trembley (NREMT-P) and David Page (MS, NRP), says exposure to microscopic superbugs like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) “go undetected in our daily work and can be responsible for prolonged hospitalization, amputations and severe organ damage.” They two cite a recent study from the department of epidemiology at the Ohio State University that offers  some insight as to the prevalence of this bad bug.

The study determines that EMS providers have 10 times the risk of carrying MRSA if they don’t wash their hands after removing their gloves. “MRSA prevention is a major focus of healthcare organizations, but it appears we fall short in EMS. So-called superbugs like MRSA aren’t going away anytime soon. This study sampled providers in every EMS region of Ohio, which means this isn’t a problem that can be isolated to a single service. The presence of MRSA colonies provides a risk to the patients we treat, not to mention ourselves and our fellow EMTs and paramedics. It’s time to go back to basics. Simple hand washing is a critical process before and after taking care of patients, and wearing gloves makes all the difference.”

MRSA study leads to changes in fire station protocols (at Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, Environmental Health News): Snohomish County Fire District 1 in Washington state comprises 12 fire stations that field, on average, 13,000 emergency calls each year. As wellness coordinator for District 1, firefighter and paramedic Kevin Fetter was interested in a new disinfection system. But first he wanted to find out what kinds of germs were on the surfaces of the fire stations and medic units and which could be transmitted to personnel that might potentially cause infection or illness.

Fetter called labs all over the country, and he found help at the UW, where he connected with Professor Marilyn Roberts, an environmental microbiologist in our department. Their collaboration led to the first-ever environmental health study on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in Northwest fire stations and on fire personnel to determine the extent of contamination. The study’s findings led to a number of protocol changes to improve decontamination of environmental surfaces inside the fire stations and trucks.

Roberts and her team determined which locations in the stations and trucks were most likely to be contaminated. And to better prevent bacteria from contaminating surfaces, protocol changes were proposed, such as lengthening how long disinfectants are left on surfaces before being wiped off; changing sanitizers and hand-towel dispensers to the touchless variety; and purchasing new station furniture made of easy-to-clean plastic or wood rather than furniture covered in fabric.

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