Methicillin-Resistant Staphlococcus Aureus. MRSA.
You read about it in the papers, it's all over the morning news. Where did it come from? What should you look for? What should you do?
MRSA started life as a simple bacteria called "staph." It lives on our skin and a third of the general population carries it in their noses without any symptoms at all. It can also live on hard surfaces like telephones, door handles, exercise machines, shopping cart handles, sink faucet handles just to name a few. The list is really endless.
Some strains of staph have evolved into a very tough fighter that is getting harder and harder to treat and it is called MRSA. Staph used to be easily treated with Penicillin-like medicines.
There are as many scenarios that lead to infection as there are people in the world. That doesn't mean that we have to live in a bubble or go to school or work in a space suit to protect ourselves, but there are things we can do to reduce our risk.
Here are my top ten ways to keep MRSA (or any other infection) out of your lives.
- Wash your hands regularly with warm, soapy water. It doesn't have to be antibacterial soap, any one will do. A quick swish won't do either, it should take about 15-20 seconds. Sing the alphabet song or the Happy Birthday song to make it last. Teach your little ones to do it every time they wash. Encourage your kids to shower after practice or games. Don't wait till the next morning.
- Clean and cover any cut or abrasion. Wounds covered by a secure dry bandage are considered contained and keep it from spreading. That goes for any opening in the skin. Blisters, bug bites and burns are all openings in the skin. Wash your hands before and after you treat any of these too. If you have a spot that looks like an infected bug bite, spider bite, pimple or boil, have it looked at by a medical professional.
- Stop touching your nose! We do it all the time, hundreds of times a day without even thinking of it. Staph likes to live in our noses and there are no symptoms to let you know it is there.
- Don't share personal items. Don't share razors, makeup, towels, jewelry, deodorant, or soap. Wash your athlete's clothes and towels daily and dry in a hot drier to finish off any lingering germs.
- Don't insist on antibiotics every time you get an ear ache or sore throat. Save them for the more serious illnesses. Most of what we suffer with are viruses that doctors have no treatment for anyways. If you only take antibiotics rarely, they will be strong enough to kill the bacteria when you really do need them.
- If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, take them the way they are prescribed. If the label says take it 4 times a day and you only take it twice a day, the bacteria will win, every time. If you take it for 4 days instead of 10 days like the label says because you feel better and don't think you need it anymore, the bacteria will win.
- Don't keep half-used prescriptions around "just in case I need them." You will inevitably treat something the medicine isn't intended for, under-treat something it is intended for and end up teaching the bacteria in your world how to become even more resistant.
- Shop organic if you can. Choose foods that are free of antibiotics. There are estimates that as high as 70-80% of the antibiotics produced in our country are used in the agriculture industry. Most is used to increase the animal's growth rate. The antibiotics then end up in the meat, the milk, the cheese and the eggs. It is also sprayed onto crops that end up in your salads and well-intentioned lunch boxes. Constantly eating foods with antibiotics in them can only add to the resistances we experience. Organic is just a smart way to shop.
- Reduce the amount of sugar in your day. The more sugar you eat, the harder it is for your body to fight bacteria. It matters not if it is in the form or organic sugar in your coffee or high fructose corn syrup in your soda. Sugar is sugar and it puts your white blood cells to sleep. If you have to drink sweetened drinks, sweeten it yourself. A glass of tea with two teaspoons of sugar is far better than a bottle of Lipton's pre-sweetened from the convenience store cooler with over 16 teaspoons swimming in it. Better yet, drink water. We all need to drink more anyways.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. They are a proven way of improving your body's immune system. If you have to live in a world with bacteria, don't you want an immune system that is ready to put up a real fight!
Remember how your grandmother always wore little white gloves when she went out? It wasn't just for fashion's sake. They kept her hands clean when she was out and not able to wash.
We don't wear white gloves anymore, but eating healthy foods, washing our hands regularly and using antibiotics wisely is the best way to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
Gina Carmichael, RN