Security Against Staph

Attention rose to a fever pitch last fall about the dangers of potentially life-threatening infections from a drug-resistant bacteria known as Staphylococcus aureus, or staph, with widespread media reports of cases spread through athletic programs and in locker rooms.

Experts caution that while staph infections can be controlled through simple steps, those measures require constant vigilance and wide-ranging educational efforts among the user population.

The simplest defense against such infections includes following your mother’s advice: Wash your hands and body.

“Very simply put, common-sense cleaning, disinfecting and hand hygiene save people’s lives,” says Nancy Bock of the Soap and Detergent Association, a manufacturers’ trade group.

”Even if a contaminated surface is touched, the germ involved can be removed through simple hand-washing,” says Rachel Gorwitz, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And people with cuts or other infections should also take careful precautions, she says.

“Covering infections will greatly reduce the risk of surfaces becoming contaminated with staph, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA),” Gorwitz says.

One nonprofit organization, NSF International, which creates standards and certifies food, water and consumer products, has launched an educational effort for children, the Scrub Club, featuring a Web site with “soaper-heroes” to teach hand-washing.

The site includes interactive games, music, downloadable activities and educational materials for teachers and parents.

“By teaching children the importance of proper hand-washing with the help of the Scrub Club, we can make a difference in preventing the spread of MRSA and other serious infections,” says company Vice President William Fisher.

Lindsey Lesher, who coordinates MRSA surveillance for the state of Minnesota, says the state health agency has developed educational materials for the general public, schools, athletes and coaches. “The important message is that MRSA is preventable through basic measures such as covering wounds and washing hands,” she says.

Personal Hygiene

In addition to encouraging the use of basic soap and water, several companies are marketing their sanitizing and cleaning products as effective against the spread of staph. One such firm, Boca Raton, Fla.-based SafeHands Inc., states its alcohol-free, instant hand-sanitizer can succeed where alcohol-based products fail.

“Alcohol kills germs by stripping away the skin’s natural oils,” says CEO Jay Reubens, calling SafeHands “more persistent” in killing germs than alcohol, in addition to being nontoxic and nonflammable.

The company has received a great deal of interest from school officials, and also offers a school poster program promoting hand-sanitizing.

In Union County, Ky., the school system has students apply another company’s hand-sanitizing product, Protec-4, when getting on the bus every morning, according to Massachusetts-based marketing firm Triple-S. Teachers also have bottles of the sanitizer in the classroom. The alcohol-free antibacterial lotion is manufactured by Las Vegas-based Skinvisible Inc., and marketed by Triple-S, a janitorial and sanitary supply firm.

“Support and maintenance staffs also have Protec-4 available for their use,” said Triple-S board director Ken Crutcher.

Disinfection Steps

If you have an outbreak in your facility, it’s not necessary to “disinfect” the entire institution, says Minnesota’s MRSA expert Lesher.

“Cleaning and disinfecting should [be] performed on surfaces that are likely to contact uncovered or poorly covered infections,” she says.

Her agency recommends routine cleaning with detergent-based products or those registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (A list is available at http://epa.gov/oppad001/chemregindex.htm.)

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