Fire fighters, medics at greater risk of MRSA exposure than general public

November 19, 2010 By Elizabeth Sharpe
Fire fighters, medics at greater risk of MRSA exposure than general public
Firefighters and medics may be at higher risk for carrying methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) than the average person, according to results from a UW study. Credit: Marc Beaudreau

Firefighters and medics may be, perhaps not surprisingly, at a higher risk for carrying methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) than the average person, according to results from a new study conducted by Marilyn Roberts, a University of Washington professor of environmental and occupational health sciences. Roberts, a microbiologist, recently conducted the first-ever environmental health study on MRSA in Northwest fire stations and on fire personnel to determine the extent of related contamination.

In the last ten years, the number of hospital- and community-acquired MRSA infections--those often contracted in schools, public gyms, and in workplaces--has risen. Because MRSA can be transmitted from surfaces to people and from person to person, the increase in incidence has led to concern for first responders, including police, and emergency medical personnel. Fire personnel interact with both hospital and community populations as part of their job and have the potential to be exposed to MRSA as part of their daily duties.

"Firefighters and are at the crossroads between the public and hospital environments," said Roberts. "Their job includes administering first-response care to patients, many of whom are more likely to be MRSA carriers or have MRSA infections then the general population. This puts them at increased risk for MRSA infections."

Roberts found MRSA in four percent of more than 1,000 samples collected from surfaces inside Snohomish County fire stations, medic and fire trucks, and outer protective gear. But in each of the nine areas sampled, at least one sample tested positive for MRSA, and both hospital- and community-acquired MRSA were found.

Roberts conducted the study after being contacted by firefighters who asked for help in determining whether they were being exposed to MRSA on the job. "Firefighters and medics were part of an advisory board that helped us develop the study," she said.

Firefighter and paramedic Kevin Fetter said that he had questions about a new disinfection system, including: What was on the surfaces or being transmitted that might cause infection or illness? As the wellness coordinator for Snohomish County Fire District 1, Fetter called labs all over the country asking for help in testing before connecting with Roberts at the University of Washington. The district is made up of 12 fire stations that field 13,000 emergency calls each year.

Fetter and colleagues knew that MRSA was being studied in hospital settings, but didn't know how MRSA affected them. Except for a small study in Arizona, no one else had looked at this setting and firefighter exposure.

"We now recognize it as a problem," said Fetter, referring to the firefighter community. The UW study results have attracted attention in other regional fire departments, since findings showed firefighters can be carriers.

The research team found more than 20 percent of the fire personnel who volunteered to be tested carried MRSA and an additional 10 percent carried Staphylococcus aureus in their noses. Normally, 25 to 35 percent of the general population carries S. aureus in the nose. Also, in studying the genetic characteristics of the different strains of bacteria, Roberts found that MRSA strains on fire personnel were related to the environmental MRSA strains, suggesting transmission between personnel and the environmental surfaces.

Roberts and her team looked at MRSA contamination in fire stations and determined which locations were most likely to be contaminated. The study also was conducted to improve decontamination of the station and truck environmental surfaces and to use the information to develop and distribute educational materials on best practices for disinfection protocols.

Roberts said she hopes to expand the study to determine if the results from the initial study are representative of the larger firefighter population within Washington state and throughout the United States.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Study seeks to aid diagnosis, management of catatonia

December 11, 2017
Catatonia, a syndrome of motor, emotional and behavioral abnormalities frequently characterized by muscular rigidity and a trance-like mental stupor and at times manifesting with great excitement or agitation, can occur during ...

New compound stops progressive kidney disease in its tracks

December 7, 2017
Progressive kidney diseases, whether caused by obesity, hypertension, diabetes, or rare genetic mutations, often have the same outcome: The cells responsible for filtering the blood are destroyed. Reporting today in Science, ...

New Lyme disease tests could offer quicker, more accurate detection

December 7, 2017
New tests to detect early Lyme disease - which is increasing beyond the summer months -could replace existing tests that often do not clearly identify the infection before health problems occur.

Spinal tap needle type impacts the risk of complications

December 6, 2017
The type of needle used during a lumbar puncture makes a significant difference in the subsequent occurrence of headache, nerve irritation and hearing disturbance in patients, according to a study by Hamilton medical researchers.

Men with HPV are 20 times more likely to be reinfected after one year

December 5, 2017
A new analysis of genital human papillomavirus (HPV) in men shows that infection with one HPV type strongly increases the risk of reinfection with the same type. In fact, men who are infected with the type responsible for ...

New tuberculosis drugs possible with understanding of old antibiotic

December 5, 2017
Tuberculosis, and other life-threatening microbial diseases, could be more effectively tackled with future drugs, thanks to new research into an old antibiotic by the University of Warwick and The Francis Crick Institute.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Nov 21, 2010
"Because MRSA can be transmitted from surfaces to people and from person to person."
I'm still stunned that hospitals aren't using copper EVERYWHERE there is a contact surface. It's natures' anti-bacterial answer!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.