Study: One-Third of EMS Stethoscopes Infected with MRSAApr 1, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP A new study found that about one-third of all stethoscopes used by emergency medical services (EMS) providers is contaminated with the dangerous, sometimes deadly, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria.
ABC 7 News reported that investigators looked at 50 stethoscopes from EMS professionals at a New Jersey hospital emergency department and discovered that 16 of the stethoscopes were “colonized” with the super bug. The study also revealed that 16 EMS workers were unsure when their stethoscopes had last been sanitized; and other EMS workers believed it had been anywhere from one to seven days since the stethoscopes were last cleaned, reported ABC.
"Of the 50 stethoscopes, 16 had MRSA colonization, and the same number [of EMS providers] couldn't remember the last time their stethoscopes were cleaned," said study author Dr. Mark Merlin, assistant professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, quoted HealthDay News. The study involved nurses, EMS workers, paramedics, and EMTs who went through the hospital emergency department over the course of a 24-hour period, HealthDay News added.
"I thought maybe one percent of stethoscopes would be infected," said Merlin, who added that, "The longer period of time between cleanings, the more likely it is you have this bacteria," HealthDay News reported. According to Merlin, said HealthDay, all that is needed is to "Provide isopropyl alcohol wipes at hospital emergency room entrances so EMS professionals can clean their stethoscopes regularly." This falls in line with a piece we wrote yesterday in which Science Daily reported that basic, regular hand washing by hospital staff and visitors could drastically help stem the spread of the MRSA super bug.
MRSA is carried on the skin or in the nose and can affect others, with MRSA carriers exhibiting no symptoms. MRSA can be dangerous if it reaches the bloodstream or organs, but with early and proper diagnosis—when there is a small eruption on the skin and before MRSA reaches the bloodstream—the infection is easily treated with general-purpose antibiotics, the sore is bandaged and kept clean, and the infection is cured. There is no down time and patients can resume activities with no risk of falling ill or contaminating others. Without treatment or with incorrect diagnosis and treatment, the infection spreads rapidly and can lead to respiratory failure and surgeries, attacking vital organs like the lungs and heart. Survivors are not always returned to their pre-MRSA condition, losing limbs, hearing, and full use of damaged organs, for instance.
MRSA now has two main strains, the traditional, hospital-acquired MRSA (HA-MRSA), which, said EfluxMedia in an earlier report, is more dangerous due to its overwhelming antibiotic resistance and community-acquired MRSA (CA-MRSA). CA-MRSA originates from strain ST8:USA300 and, while more potent, is a bit easier to treat, often not needing antibiotic therapy. Science Daily explained earlier that MRSA are Staphylococcus aureus bacteria that are resistant to the meticillin class of antibiotics.
In 2005—the last year when such figures are available—about 94,000 Americans developed MRSA with most infected in healthcare facilities. Previously limited to hospital and nursing home patients, MRSA is now striking and killing in communities. According to Merlin, said HealthDay, while the prevailing trend has been to blame hospitals for MRSA’s spread, the study shows that the infections have another route with which to contaminate patients prior to arrival at a hospital.