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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Kit System Developed by Washington Estimates High MRSA Levels in Fire Stations

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is increasingly prevalent in community settings, and fire stations are no exception, according to a study published in the June issue of the American Journal of Infection Control.  A new “kit system” developed by environmental health researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health and deployed in fire stations across Washington state turned up evidence that the MRSA “superbug” contaminates living areas in fire stations and may pose risks to the health of fire personnel.

Between 25-30 percent of healthy individuals carry S. aureus, while 1 to 2 percent may carry the drug-resistant bacteria MRSA.  During an outbreak, up to 60 percent of hospitalized patients and nursing home residents and their caregivers may carry MRSA.  People colonized or infected with MRSA shed the bacteria onto surfaces.  Fire personnel and first-responders are particularly vulnerable because they frequently come into contact with MRSA-colonized and MRSA-infected individuals as they attend to patients in nursing homes and transport sick or injured individuals to hospitals.

Thirty-three fire stations participated in the study conducted by Dr. Marilyn C. Roberts, a professor of environmental and occupational health sciences, and Dr. David No, a research scientist, both in the School of Public Health.

The kit each station received included a survey and materials and instruction for sampling surfaces most commonly contaminated with MRSA.  These surfaces include seat belts in the medic truck, mobile computer keyboards, turnout gear, and furniture and fixtures in the living areas–bedroom, kitchen, gym, and living room–inside the fire station.

The researchers found the living areas surfaces commonly tested positive for MRSA and methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus despite the cleaning and disinfection policies and protocols practiced.  The cleaning protocols typically include medic trucks, gear, and tools, but less commonly were applied to high-touch surfaces in living areas.  Fewer than half the stations used vacuum cleaners with HEPA filtration and microfiber mops and cloths, which can be more effective.  The study also found that fire stations that kept on-call tools out of the living areas had fewer MRSA-contaminated surfaces in those areas.

Twelve stations also reported that they previously had personnel with a MRSA infection requiring medical attention.

The project with the fire stations was coordinated by the Field Research and Consultation Group and Nancy Simcox in the Department of Environmental & Occupational Health and in partnership with the Washington State Fire Chief Association.  It was funded by the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences.

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