Nursing home caregivers often MRSA conduits: Study

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated from its original version to clarify potential dangers.

Nursing home caregivers are often unwittingly conduits that spread an infection that could lead to a potentially lethal flesh-eating disease, according to a new study in a leading infection control journal. In many cases, it's happening simply because workers avoid or are unaware of simple precautions such as personal protective equipment and hand washing, researchers said.

As many as one in four nursing home residents are carriers of drug resistant Staphylococcus aureus (also called MRSA), researchers state in the May 26 issue of Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology. MRSA infections, in rare cases, could potentially cause a  deadly flesh-eating disease called necrotizing fasciitis, according to WebMD.

Researchers evaluated 403 residents at 13 community-based nursing homes in Maryland and Michigan, to assess whether interactions with healthcare workers lead to contamination of their gowns and gloves by MRSA bacteria. Twenty eight percent of the residents were found to harbor MRSA; most of the transmission occurred via caregivers' contaminated gloves.

“We know that healthcare workers serve as a vector for MRSA transmission from one resident to another in settings such as nursing homes," said Mary-Claire Roghmann, M.D., lead author of the study. "The use of barrier precautions, such as gowns and gloves, limit this transmission, but guidance on when to use them is limited.”

MRSA transmission was found to most likely happen while dressing or transferring residents, providing hygiene such as brushing teeth or combing hair, and changing linens and briefs.