MRSA In the Office
Office and facility managers can take a number of steps to reduce risk associated with MRSA and other pathogens from spreading throughout the office.
- By Peter J. Sheldon Sr.
- Aug 16, 2010
According to a study by Princeton University scholars and additional collected data, the number of cases of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections has increased by more than 90 percent between 1999 and 2009. The study also reports that costs associated with treating MRSA infections can range between $3,000 and $36,000 more than non-antibiotic-resistant Staph infections. In a commercial or institutional environment, studies have also proven that close quarters and shared items can affect the spread of infections and sickness. These factors take a serious toll when a staff member contracts MRSA, increasing the risk of an outbreak that could potentially spread to other members of your staff. In order to reduce the risks of transmission associated with a serious disease such as MRSA, it is important to take proactive, preventative measures.
MRSA is a type of Staph bacteria that can cause difficult-to-treat and serious bacterial infections. MRSA can manifest itself physically in a number of ways, including skin blemishes, rashes and boils. The infections can be difficult to treat because the bacterium has built a resistance to many types of traditional antibiotics.
Most often, MRSA is spread through hand contact, but hand contact is not necessarily represented by direct hand-to-hand interaction. Surfaces throughout the entire office have been shown to have the propensity to become contaminated and support MRSA bacteria. High-touch points (such as light switches, keyboards, doorknobs, etc.) are fomites that have the capability to transmit MRSA bacteria and other pathogenic threats.
But MRSA isn't spread only by direct hand contact or even contact of surfaces with indirect hand contact. It is possible that when an infected staffer coughs, he or she may spread airborne droplets that are carried throughout the office. This capability to utilize multiple points of transmission makes MRSA and many other pathogenic organisms even more difficult to prevent from spreading.
There are a number of steps that office and facility managers can take to reduce risk associated with MRSA and other pathogens from spreading throughout the office. From proactive prevention to outbreak containment, health-based hygienic cleaning has been proven to reduce risks and help curb MRSA outbreaks.
Prevention: Education and Health-based Cleaning
Similar to prevention tactics to curb the spread of organisms such as influenza, the battle against MRSA transmission begins with education. Education programs focused on hand and surface hygiene can leverage posted bulletins around the office, a MRSA prevention-focused meeting in the conference room, one-on-one consultation -- even something as simple as a mass e-mail to your staff. Some companies might bring in outside consultants for a seminar, while others put programs in place offered with qualified health-based cleaning services.
One of the most important prevention tactics your staff can use in the fight against MRSA is frequent and effective hand washing. Washing your hands after going to the bathroom is a universal action, but are staff members doing it effectively? In order to effectively eliminate MRSA germs from their skin, it's important for employees to wash their hands for as long as 30 seconds.
In terms of productivity, washing hands on a frequent basis can often be neglected. Handing out personal alcohol-based hand sanitizers or installing hand sanitizer dispensers is a good way to make sure busy employees are keeping their hands clean as they work.
Encouraging infected employees to stay home until they are healthy again is an important part of the education process. Even if employees are feeling better, they may still be contagious; set up your staff so they can work remotely from home if absolutely necessary.
In terms of surface cleaning, the prevention process often requires the help of an outside cleaning service or facility staff with a background in health-based cleaning. The truth is that not all cleaning services have a program to clean to reduce health risks, as well as appearances.
Many traditional cleaning services tend to use outdated, antiquated strategies (such as spray-and-wipe) and technologies (e.g., string mops) that can contribute to cross-contamination and bypass germ hotbeds. In contrast, health-based cleaning methods leverage daily aseptic programs that focus on decontaminating high-touch points with proper disinfection and preventing cross-contamination through the proper use of soil removal tools and color-coding.
A health-based cleaning strategy specifically targets high-touch or "critical control points" in a commercial or institutional facility. By focusing proper cleaning on surfaces in the office that get more hand attention, health-based cleaning services target potentially contaminated surfaces that can harbor MRSA and other harmful pathogens, helping to reduce the risk associated with the transmission of the harmful organisms and the subsequent contamination of employees.
Basic Parts of a Health-based Cleaning System
A health-based cleaning strategy includes the following main components:
- Introduction of a hand-hygiene program. As mentioned above, your cleaning service provider can introduce hand sanitizers into restrooms, lobbies, and break areas, making access to hand hygiene tools more readily available throughout your facility to reinforce good hand hygiene practices for your staff.
- EPA-registered, hospital-grade disinfectants. Strong (but safe) disinfectants registered to kill MRSA, EPA-registered disinfectants, deployed with the proper dwell time, can reduce the risk of surface contact transmissions of MRSA and other pathogens.
- Bucket immersion for applying disinfectant to cleaning cloths. In lieu of pour bottles, bucket immersion helps target and kill organisms collected on cloths before the next surface is attended to. In fact, a 2009 study by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America found that enhanced cleaning protocols such as bucket immersion can reduce the spread of MRSA to hospital patients exposed to rooms in which the prior occupant had been colonized or infected.
- Color-coded microfiber cloths. Cross-contamination presents a serious problem in the commercial cleaning world. Traditional cleaning cloths or paper towels can pick up dead germs and spread them to other areas of the facility, where they may act as food source for new bacteria. Color-coded microfiber is utilized in a single, designated area of a facility. It is not only 99 percent more effective at removing soil and germs, but also dramatically reduces cross-contamination in the office.
- No-dip, flat mop technologies. Microfibers in flat mop technology are 99 percent more effective at retaining soil and matter than traditional mops. Lightweight flat mops are equipped with super-absorbent microfiber fabric that traps and holds dead germs. For extra insurance, no-dip flat mops use only clean solution to remove dirt and soils, increasing soil and germ removal and reducing the risk of cross-contamination because the mop surface does not come into contact with contaminated solution.
- Touch-free spray-and-vacuum systems. This technology provides the most complete disinfection and matter removal of any cleaning application. No-touch spray-and-vacuum systems saturate surfaces with hospital-grade disinfectant, rinse with a high-pressure stream of fresh water after proper dwell time, and recover the solution from floors with a high-power wet vacuum. The technique produces results that have been scientifically proven to reduce the presence of soils and pathogens on surfaces that are tolerant to this wet cleaning process.
Decontamination Cleaning Programs
If your facility or office has been affected by a MRSA outbreak, some health-based cleaning services offer decontamination cleaning programs. Studies have shown that MRSA bacteria can survive for months under the right conditions, so an effective decontamination program presents a clear option to have an immediate and abrupt disruption of disease transmission risk when an outbreak has occurred. Many of the companies that offer decontamination cleaning programs give facility managers the option to a one-time decontamination cleaning of all accessible horizontal and vertical surfaces or a complete terminal cleaning of every square inch, including ceiling to floor disinfection.