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What do college dormitories, military barracks, day care centers, locker rooms, hospitals, and nursing homes have in common? All are places where infections with a germ resistant to treatment with common antibiotics can occur—particularly if there are shared items such as towels or razors that may have come into contact with infected skin. This germ, known as Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA, has become a common problem over the years and can result in serious infections. MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant bacteria labeled as the “super bug,” causes more deaths each year than AIDS. Each year, more than 17,000 Americans die as a result of MRSA-related infections. Simple precautions, such as hand washing, can go a long way toward preventing MRSA infections.
Although hand washing is one of the most effective weapons against MRSA, it is often neglected or done incorrectly. In fact, the national average for hand washing compliance in hospitals, that is, how often care givers wash their hands both before and after touching a patient, is around 40 percent. Through an aggressive hand washing compliance monitoring initiative, Nash Health Care has achieved 95 percent compliance—well above the national average. As a result, Nash Health Care has reduced its MRSA infection rate by 75 percent, from 8 cases in 2007 to 3 cases in 2010. Patients at Nash Health Care remained totally free of hospital-associated MRSA infections between February and November of 2010.
Nash Health Care’s success with hand washing and infection prevention has resulted in nomination for an infection control award from a national health care organization. Nash Health Care participated in several initiatives developed in collaboration with the VHA to help hospitals reduce and eliminate hospital-associated MRSA infections. VHA, based in Texas, serves 1,400 not-for-profit hospitals and more than 24,000 non-acute care health care organizations nationwide, developing strategies to help hospitals across the country improve efficiency and clinical outcomes.
“Reducing the MRSA rate by 75 percent is truly an exceptional achievement which will have a major positive impact on patient safety. We are very proud of all our employees, particularly our Infection Prevention and Environmental Services departments, for their tireless efforts that made this goal possible,” said Larry Chewning, president and CEO of Nash Health Care. “This is truly a milestone in improving patient safety.”
Some of the initiatives implemented by Nash Health Care include a room quality check. After a patient is discharged, a room is thoroughly cleaned. Then, supervisors in the Environmental Services Department utilize a product called Glo-Germ that uses a black light to help ensure that areas that are frequently touched—such as door handles, TV remotes, and bed rails—are thoroughly cleaned. The Glo-Germ is used on a sample of rooms after patients have been discharged. In addition, Infection Prevention nurses conduct spot checks using a device called Accupoint 2, which evaluates the cleanliness of a surface.
“The positive response from our employees, particularly those in our Environmental Services Department, has been amazing. They have all embraced this process and have participated in additional training,” said Wanda Lamm, infection prevention coordinator at Nash Health Care. “We have continually promoted a culture of patient safety and patient and family education.”
The bottom line? Hand washing makes sense; it is simple, highly effective in preventing the spread of germs, and directly results in saved lives.
MRSA can occur anywhere, particularly in crowded areas such as dorms and schools. MRSA may be spread through direct contact with someone who is infected, touching surfaces that may be harboring the bacteria, or failing to wash hands thoroughly after coming in contact with the bacteria. Athletes who participate in contact sports such as wresting, football and rugby may be at a higher risk of contracting MRSA through contact with contaminated weight room or exercise equipment.
MRSA skin infections may look like a bump that is red, swollen, painful, warm, full of pus or other drainage, and accompanied by a fever. It is very important to get treatment early in order to lessen the severity of the infection.
Everyone has a role in infection prevention, and these roles are not limited to health care professionals. Hospital visitors may unintentionally spread the bacteria to patients. For example, before a visitor hugs or touches the hand of a sick patient, they may have also touched several other items: door handles, steering wheels, coins, pocketbooks, and elevator buttons. A visitor could easily pick up a strain of bacteria and unknowingly transfer it to a patient who may already have a compromised immune system or a wound. Therefore, Lamm says visitors, patients and family members should follow these practical safety tips:
· If you are sick, do not visit patients in the hospital.
· If you cough or if you sneeze, cover your mouth. In the main lobby of the hospital is a kiosk offering face masks, tissues and hand sanitizer for use by visitors or family members.
· Be sure to wash your hands before and after visiting patients. Hands should be washed with soap and warm water for about as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” at a regular speed, or you may use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
· If you are visiting a patient in the hospital, be sure to ask if there are contact precautions. These should be clearly labeled on a patient’s door. This means that visitors should wear a gown and gloves when visiting a patient. If you are not sure if you need to wear personal protective equipment, please speak to a nurse.
· Visitors should limit the amount of personal belongings they bring into a patient’s room.
· If you do not see your health care provider wash his or her hands before treating you, please do not be afraid to politely ask them if they have washed their hands.
These tips can help you avoid getting—or unintentionally giving--- a MRSA infection to someone.
Nash Health Care is a non-profit hospital authority comprised of five licensed hospitals totaling 403 beds: Nash General Hospital, Nash Day Hospital, the Bryant T. Aldridge Rehabilitation Center, Community Hospital and Coastal Plain Hospital.