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Melisa Hobbs was one of a number of parents who came to Staunton High School the morning of Oct. 16.
Hobbs, however, wasn't there because of fears of MRSA. She came to pick up her daughter to take her for her driver's license test. Hobbs wasn't frightened by the MRSA story because these microbes are a part of her professional specialty. A registered nurse, she's the infection control coordinator at Bedford Memorial Hospital.
"Staphylococcus Aureus is a normal bacteria on most people's skin and nose," she said. " We carry it around with us."
It can, however, cause an infection if it gets in your bloodstream or in wounds. Once a Staph Aureus infection starts it can kill you or do permanent organ damage.
Hobbs said that, plus the fact that we can carry it around with us, is why the hospital focuses on frequent hand washing for health care workers.
MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) is a form of Staph Aureus that has developed a resistance to methicillin. This, Hobbs said, is an antibiotic in the penicillin family, which means that MRSA may also be resistant to others in that group of antibiotics.
MRSA isn't a new germ. Hobbs said it's been around for half-a-century and hospitals have been dealing with it for a long time. When people are infected with it, it behaves the same as regular Staph Aureus, which was first discovered 120 years ago.
Its resistance to methicillin is why it is more apt to cause complications or death because a hospital may treat a Staph Aureus infection with methicillin as a first resort. Medical professionals can't know for sure that a Staphylococcus Aureus infection is MRSA without taking a culture, which takes seven days to develop, although they can know, sometimes, within 24 hours.
Staphylococcus Aureus is ubiquitous.
"You could find it just about anywhere, anybody touches," she said.
How do you protect yourself from something that is probably on everything you touch?
Hobbs said that your first line of defense is to wash your hands frequently and practice good personal hygiene. Hobbs said that she's very concerned about students who don't shower after gym class. This gives any Staph Aureus they may have picked up plenty of time to find a happy home on their bodies.
Keeping a waterless hand sanitizer handy is also a good idea. The sanitizer must contain 60 percent alcohol to kill MRSA.
Another major line of defense is to avoid sharing personal items with other people. Personal items are those that come in contact with your skin, such as lip balm, stick or roll-on deodorants or make-up.
"I've even heard of kids sharing razors," she commented.
Towels are also a personal item. Some student athletes share towels that hang around their necks at games. Staph Aureus can hitch a ride on these towels.
Keeping wounds clean and covered is also important.
Having your home cleaned by a professional cleaner isn't necessary. Besides the fact that you will just bring Staphylococcus Aureus in with you as soon as you return, recontaminating your house, you can do the job yourself.
"Bleach is one of the best cleaning things you can get," Hobbs said.
There are also a number of common sanitizers that will kill MRSA. Hobbs said that Mr. Clean Antibacterial and most Lysol products will kill MRSA as well as all Staphylococcus bacteria. She said that the label of a sanitizer should tell you if it kills MRSA. She added that most sanitizing products have a Web site which lists all the microbes that it kills. When cleaning, Hobbs recommends paying special attention to bathrooms, kitchens and items that are frequently touched.
There's one step you can do to help everybody. Hobbs said that you should not insist on an antibiotic every time you get sick because it isn't always necessary. In fact, an antibiotic is useless against a viral infection such as colds or flu. If an antibiotic is prescribed, be sure to finish them all. If you don't, you will help create antibiotic resistant strains.