Members of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) are concerned about the spread of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureaus (MRSA) infections in the workplace.

As a result, ASSE professional member Aruna Vadgama, RN, MPA, CSP, CPHQ, CPE, COHN-S, SRN, CHRM recently discussed ways to prevent MRSA infection in the workplace in an ASSE Healthcare Practice Specialty’s newsletter HealthBeat article titled, “MRSA Infection Control: Best Practices.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 126,000 hospitalizations are related to MRSA each year; and 70 percent of hospital-acquired infections are due to antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as MRSA, with MRSA infections being one of the strongest and fastest-growing.

According to the article, MRSA is a type of staph bacteria that is of concern to hospital staff because it is strongly resistant to methicillin and to other modern antibiotics, but it can be treated with several other available antibiotics. Staph lives on human skin and/or in the nasal area and can cause a wide range of illnesses from minor skin infections to life-threatening diseases. Infection can be spread through contact with pus from an infected wound, skin-to-skin contact, as well as from contact with other objects --as staph can exist on surfaces for up to six hours. In hospitals, people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to staph infections.

“Good hygiene, particularly regular and thorough hand washing, offers the best protection (against infection),” Vadgama wrote. “The key to treating any disease and/or illness is early detection, early diagnosis, proper treatment and follow up.”

MRSA is not always easy to detect. A person may be colonized by MRSA, meaning they are infected and are carriers of the disease but show no symptoms. Vadgama notes that nasal swabs are a good way to detect MRSA infection in people who do not show symptoms, as staph infections are commonly found in the nasal area.

Currently there are no federal regulations or standards in place for preventing staph and MRSA infection in the workplace. However, Vadgama noted that there are recent “incentive-based” models for infection control being put in place. For example, the Center for Medicare Services (CMS) recently published its Condition of Participation Standards and Pay for Performance Standards, effective in 2008. The Pay for Performance standards ensure that healthcare organizations or providers do not get reimbursed for the care, treatment and services related to a situation where a patient acquired an infection and or had an adverse outcome due to medical error.