Monday Medical: Hygiene prevents spread of bug

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On my first day as an employee at Yampa Valley Medical Center, I learned a very important lesson: how to wash my hands.

We are vigilant at YVMC about all germs and one "super bug" in particular, known as MRSA. Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus is a type of bacteria resistant to the most common antibiotics. In other words, this germ waged its own war against drugs and won. What doesn't kill it actually makes it stronger, hence the "super bug" title.

During YVMC's employee orientation, Infection Prevention Coordinator Meg Montgomery explained the importance of hand hygiene when it comes to safe health care.

At the time it seemed to me an obvious lesson, especially for health care providers who come in contact with patients. Nevertheless, I learned three important things. One, I can and should wash my hands more thoroughly. Two, I should wash more frequently. Finally, the lesson was a reminder that hand hygiene is step one in minimizing the risk of infection.

"There are studies that indicate some health care providers still do not do enough when it comes to hand hygiene," Montgomery said. "At YVMC, we've established a hospital-wide program that raises awareness among staff, as well as encourages patients and their families to be active and ask their health care providers if they have washed or sanitized their hands."

Our bodies provide free public transportation for germs. Even though we may feel and look perfectly healthy, we can carry and spread germs from point A to point B as we touch surfaces. When we have a cold, we can infect others by sniffling, sneezing or coughing around town.

While MRSA is not harmful to those of us who are healthy, it can cause problems for those who are seriously ill. It can be treated, but it is often difficult for physicians to find the correct antibiotic to match the specific strain of bacteria. That's why health care professionals are waging their own battle.

"We provide educational materials to our patients," Montgomery said. "We will also test patients who are at high risk for MRSA."

As part of the fight against MRSA, Yampa Valley Medical Center recently installed alcohol hand wash dispensers at the entrances and throughout the hospital.

"We encourage the public to practice good hygiene to protect our patients as well as protecting themselves," Montgomery added. In fact, it's very possible that MRSA risks stem from outside the health care setting.

Until recently, MRSA was primarily confined to hospitals. Lately, however, the super bug is becoming more prevalent in communities nationwide.

Studies show community-acquired MRSA (CA-MRSA) cases are on the rise. Just like the hospital-acquired version (HA-MRSA) the staph infection can be spread by direct physical contact with infected sheets, clothes, towels and dirty wound dressings. Additionally, CA-MRSA can be spread by contact with fitness workout areas or shared sports equipment.

Community-acquired MRSA often presents as a skin infection such as a pimple or boil. It can even look like a spider bite. Without treatment, this type of infection can develop into a bloodstream infection. It's important to see your healthcare provider for any suspected infection.

Again, the best way to prevent infection from the super bug or any bacteria is through practicing good hygiene habits:

- Keep hands clean by washing thoroughly and frequently with soap and water

- Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered

- Avoid touching the wounds of other people

- Do not share towels or other personal items with others

- Shower after workouts

- Routinely clean shared equipment

Just as YVMC has taken measures to prevent HA-MRSA, we are partnering with you to practice healthy habits in the community to help keep this super bug under control.

Riley Polumbus is communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

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