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Drug-Resistant superbugs: How to protect your work force

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in HR Management,Human Resources

An easily acquired infection now causes more deaths per year than AIDS, according to a just-released government study. MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, killed 19,000 people in the U.S. in 2005.

Doctors used to believe hospitals were the most dangerous breeding grounds for staph infection outbreaks. No more. The new research finds that the deadliest form of MRSA infects people at school, at home—and in the workplace.

Recent outbreaks in school districts across the nation and the death earlier this month of an otherwise-healthy high school football player in Virginia have shone a spotlight on the MRSA problem.

Cleanliness = prevention

HR can play an important role in minimizing the risk of staph infection at work. Protection is common sense: Cleanliness stops most infections before they turn deadly.

Most staph infections cause only minor skin irritation. But so-called “community-acquired” MRSA, which spreads by contact, can cause havoc if it enters a victim’s body through a small break in the skin like a bug bite or paper cut.

Unfortunately, this type almost always contains a toxin called PVL (Panton-Valentine Leucocidin). If it gets in the lungs or blood, it chews up tissue, causes shock and—in about 25% of cases—death within a month. Hospital expenses for treating a MRSA case often reach $50,000 to $100,000. Most antibiotics don’t work.

6 steps toward a safer workplace

That makes prevention essential. Fortunately, there are simple measures everyone can take to prevent MRSA infection in the workplace.

  1. Encourage hand washing. Hand washing is the most effective preventive measure. Be sure to provide instructions on proper hand washing techniques. Wet hands with cold water first, then apply soap. Rub hands together for at least 15 seconds, covering all surfaces of the hands and fingers. Then rinse with warm water. Dry hands thoroughly, and use a paper towel to turn off the faucet.
  2. Supply anti-bacterial gel. Dispensers can be mounted in the bathrooms, break rooms and by the exit or entrance.
  3. Spread the word: Don’t share towels. Remind employees who play sports on their lunch breaks not to share towels on the court. MRSA is spreading rapidly in school locker rooms through shared towels and equipment. It can be spread just as easily during a friendly lunchtime racquetball or volleyball match. If your office bathrooms still use a rolling cloth towel dispenser, now is a good time to install hand dryers or paper towels.
  4. Supply bandages to cover wounds. Because MRSA needs a pathway into the body to spread, it is crucial that everyone cover cuts, scrapes or bug bites. The key is to block any potential entry point.
  5. Send employees for treatment. Anyone with an abscess or swelling anywhere on the body should be sent for medical attention right away. Because MRSA can be deadly, immediate assessment and treatment are essential. The earlier treatment is started, the more likely the infection can be controlled.
  6. Use gloves.  Anyone rendering first aid in the workplace should use gloves before cleaning or bandaging a cut, scrape or other skin break. That way, any MRSA present on the skin won’t have a chance to enter the new wound. 

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