“MRSA is a four-letter ‘word’ no healthcare worker wants to hear. What exactly is it? How does it spread, and how can it affect my laundry operation? Does my staff need to take any special precautions? Should I be concerned about my workers unknowingly taking it home to their families?”
Textiles: Elizabeth Easter, Ph.D., University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky.
Studies document that MRSA infections can be spread through contact with an infected person and with objects such as towels, sheets and clothing used by an infected person. Researchers validated the fact that healthcare workers play a major role in spreading MRSA from patient to patient via contaminated hands and that clothing can serve as a carrier of MRSA.
A University of Maryland study reports that 65% of physicians and other medical professionals admitted they hadn’t washed their lab coat in at least a week, even though they knew it was dirty. Nearly 16% said they hadn’t put on a clean lab coat in at least a month.
Another study reported 65% of healthcare workers’ gowns or uniforms were contaminated with MRSA after performing routine care for patients with MRSA. A 2004 study of doctors’ neckties at a New York hospital found nearly half of them carried at least one species of infectious microbe.
Reports of these findings have the media calling for medical professionals’ clothing to be changed more often and/or cleaned more effectively as a measure to fight the spread of infection.
If your uniform or clothing has been contaminated, recognize that fabric can be a transfer route of MRSA infections. Also, take into account that the Journal of Clinical Microbiology reports that MRSA can live on fabrics for up to 90 days. Hence, uniforms, sheets and towels should be cleaned as a part of your disinfecting protocol for MRSA-infected spaces.
Some companies offer unique products that provide antimicrobial protection to uniforms, sheets and towels for dozens of washes. For example, fabrics containing silver yarns provide significant improvements in the ability to completely kill the MRSA. The silver ionizes in the presence of bacteria, killing the bacteria that are on or near the fabric. According to research, if a person with MRSA touches the fabric and then another person one hour later, they will not cross-contaminate.
A United Kingdom textile company has developed a range of fabrics incorporating silver yarns. It reports that its lab-tested fabrics killed 99.9%+ of MRSA organisms within one hour of contact. Hospital case studies have followed to prove their effectiveness.
Although new innovations of fabrics and finishes are being introduced, the eradication of MRSA depends on hygiene. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers proper hand hygiene to be the single most important factor in protecting patients from hospital-acquired infections.
Chemicals Supply: Rhonda Amendt, U.N.X. Inc., Greenville, N.C.
The superbug MRSA (methicillin- or multiple-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) was first observed in the United States around 1980. It exploded into an epidemic in the ’90s.
MRSA is a type of staph infection that is resistant to several antibiotics including penicillin. A typical infection appears as a simple pimple, boil, sty or minor skin infection, but it can be serious enough to cause pneumonia, meningitis or bloodstream infections if ignored.
The most common way MRSA spreads is by skin-to-skin contact, but it can survive on hard surfaces and fabrics. Due to its severity, employees should protect themselves by covering any open wounds, skin abrasions or injuries until the skin has adequately healed. Employers should provide PPE (personal protective equipment) such as gloves, disposable aprons/garments and masks.
If MRSA is present at a laundry facility and proper precautions are ignored, an employee can take it home on his hands or garments and infect a family member. MRSA that is spread to the home is now common enough that it has been named CA-MRSA (community-associated MRSA). People who are most susceptible are those with weak or compromised immune systems, such as the elderly and children.
Good hand hygiene is vital in preventing MRSA. Wash hands thoroughly, then use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Also, dispose of all PPE properly.
To help stop MRSA, a laundry facility should treat its fabric with a minimum 500-615ppm chlorine, and use an EPA-approved quaternary compound to protect the linen prior to use by the patient. A few cents per load can save lives, possibly your own or a family member.
Long-Term Care Laundering: Albert J. Raymond, Healthcare Services Group, Bensalem, Pa.
There are times in most laundry operations when systems and procedures reach their pinnacle, when employees seemingly go through the motions and question their duties and assignments. But just four letters can refocus an entire department in a hurry — MRSA!
Let’s look at four basic areas of our laundry operations and how we can protect our staff.
First, when we’re sorting soiled linen or personal clothing, we don’t know which residents have MRSA. We must follow Standard Precautions, which combine the basic elements of Universal Precautions and Body Substance Isolation Precautions. All soiled linen is to be handled as if it is contaminated with MRSA, and employees handling this linen should be wearing gloves and gowns at all times.
Second, and probably the single most important area, is correct hand-washing procedures! It is common knowledge that hand washing is the biggest deterrent against the spread of infection. I have noticed that turning off the water before your hands are dry is the one step that gets overlooked most. It is a simple act that, if not followed, makes the time spent washing your hands meaningless.
Third, make sure there is no cross-contamination among linen rooms. It sounds like a simple process: clean with clean, soiled with soiled. This isn’t a concern for facilities that have separate rooms for these areas, but facilities with one entrance to the laundry room to access washers and dryers must ensure that cross-contamination is not evident.
Prevent this by placing different-colored tape on the floor to differentiate clean and soiled areas. Maybe red tape for soiled and yellow for clean. Spending $8 on duct tape could prevent staff members becoming infected and calling out; client complaints; and disruption of your entire operation.
Fourth, complete your daily, weekly and monthly cleaning assignments. Examples are disinfecting soiled-linen bins weekly; disinfecting and polishing washers daily; and sweeping and damp-mopping floors daily. Have your employees initial sign-off sheets when they complete tasks so you can ensure compliance.
These basic practices can enable a laundry operation to keep these so-called superbugs at bay.
Click here for Part 2.