Injuries and Illness

The Staph Superbug Scare: What You Need to Know … and Tell Your Employees

News accounts report that a dangerous strain of staph, called MRSA, may be spreading. How much is hype? How much is there to fear? Read on and find out.

Next time you’re in a meeting with 3 other people, consider this:

Chances are that one of you is carrying the bacteria that cause a staph infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control, some 25-30 percent of all Americans host this germ within their bodies.

If this information makes you a bit nervous (or ready to bolt from the room) these days, we can guess at the reason: The media have been flush with stories of staph gone wild.

Resistant to Antibiotics

One strain, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), is even said to cause all manner of grief, from pneumonia to a terrifying “flesh-eating” effect, while shrugging off all the usual antibiotics. No wonder the newsies have dubbed the germ “Superbug.”

Learn more about staph and MRSA in BLR’s 90-minute February 13 audio conference. Can’t attend? Preorder the CD. Learn more.

Further, some accounts report that the bug is spreading like wildfire in places where people congregate, including schools and some workplaces. So it’s likely that, should such a story appear in your locale, you’ll be asked about it. Here, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are some facts you need to know:

First, staph is relatively common, often showing up as a skin infection that might look like a pimple or boil, possibly red, swollen, and painful. There may be drainage as well. If untreated, the infection can infect the bloodstream or lungs.

Such infections really can be dangerous. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, some 94,000 people died of staph-related complications in 2005. But the overwhelming number of those affected, some 85 percent, were involved in the healthcare industry, primarily outside the hospital setting, in nursing homes, extended care facilities, and the like. Comparatively few were in a general workplace setting.

And yes, the MRSA strain is resistant to most common antibiotics. But the good news is that this type is relatively rare. Although a quarter of the U.S. population may carry staph bacteria, only 1 percent carries MRSA. And the fact that someone is a carrier does not mean he or she will transmit it.

Further good news comes with the fact that most staph infections do respond to antibiotics. And all of them, including the MRSA variant, are relatively easy to protect against. This is one “Superbug,” in fact, that can be defeated with common soap.

What OSHA Says

Even though staph is primarily a problem for health care, all employers do have a duty to protect their workers against it, says the law firm, Littler Mendelson, P.C.

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“At this stage of OSHA public information,” reads a Littler advisory, “employers would be well advised to beware of the general duty clause of the OSH Act, which imposes a duty to avoid certain hazards in the workplace, and other potentially relevant OSHA requirements, like an employer’s bloodborne pathogens program.”

We’ll give you precautions your employees and your company can take, and tell you about a special audio conference to educate you in all you need to know about staph, in tomorrow’s Safety Daily Advisor.