Approximately 25 to 30 percent of the healthy population carries the staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria on skin or in nasal passages, while 1 percent carries the antibiotic-resistant MRSA strain. Staph infections are more likely to affect those with weakened immune systems or patients in hospitals and healthcare facilities. An infection typically causes the infected skin area to become red, swollen and painful, and often resembles a pimple or boil with pus or drainage. Serious infections can cause surgical wound infections, bloodstream infections or pneumonia.
Workers with MRSA infections may still be able to attend work, unless otherwise instructed by a healthcare provider, but must take steps to prevent infecting coworkers. Employees can spread the infection through direct skin-to-skin contact or contact with shared items or surfaces that have come into contact with the infection, such as towels, equipment or used bandages. MRSA is more easily transmitted in situations that involve crowding, frequent skin-to-skin contact, contaminated items and surfaces and in areas with compromised cleanliness.
Those who work in healthcare facilities, schools, correctional facilities and daycare centers are often at the highest risk of being exposed to staph infections, but workers in all industries should follow precautions to avoid transmitting MRSA staph infections:
- Cover the wound, especially draining wounds or wounds with pus, with clean, dry bandages. Pus from infected wounds can contain staph or MRSA, so using bandages (and discarding them in the trash after use) can help prevent spreading the infection.
- Wash hands frequently. One of the best ways workers can protect against MRSA infection or transmission is to regularly and thoroughly wash their hands with soap and warm water. Those with staph infections should be especially diligent about washing their hands after coming into contact with the infected area or bandage.
- Do not share personal items. Workers should not share uniforms, PPE, towels, clothing or razors that may have come into contact with a skin infection.
- Inform healthcare providers. Workers with staph infections should inform their doctors and seek treatment.
If a worker’s personal items or workstation is contaminated with MRSA, he or she can take precautions to avoid infection. Wash all uniforms, clothing, sheets and towels with water and laundry detergent and dry these items in a hot dryer. Contaminated surfaces and equipment should be cleaned with detergent-based cleaners or Environmental Protection Agency-registered disinfectants. These cleaners and disinfectants should not, however, be used to treat infections.
Healthcare workers who come into contact with MRSA-infected patients must follow additional precautions to protect themselves from infection. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, these workers must wear proper PPE, including gloves, gowns and mouth, nose and eye protection to protect against staph infections. Healthcare workers must properly handle potentially staph-contaminated equipment to prevent skin and membrane exposure. Single-use items must be appropriately discarded, and reusable equipment must be thoroughly cleaned before used again. Laundry in healthcare facilities must be handled, transported and processed to avoid contamination.
Employers can help prevent the spread of MRSA in the workplace by developing a strong focus on workplace health and safety, mandating routine housekeeping to create a clean, sanitary environment, ensuring all contaminated surfaces and equipment are cleaned with the proper cleaners and providing adequate facilities and supplies to encourage workers to practice good hygiene.