PHOTOGRAPH BY THINKSTOCK
MRSA threats are no joke! Americans endure more than 80,000 infections from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) a year, a statistic that costs the U.S. healthcare system more than $4 billion! At one time just a problem in hospitals, now MRSA lurks in our everyday environment, even inside our homes. While hospitals are getting a better handle on preventing it, fixing the spread of MRSA in our communities is now part of our responsibility, too.
One major factor fueling MRSA’s spread involves the standard practice of feeding antibiotics animals to produce standard supermarket meat. With more than 80 percent of antibiotics used to fuel the growth and counteract filthy factory-farm conditions, choosing undrugged meat is a great way to stop the spread of this virulent infection. But until America adopts a less drugged up meat supply (Denmark is successfully doing this, by the way), you should take extra steps to prevent MRSA threats.
Here are 8 weird places MRSA hides:
1. E-Cigarette Smokers’ Throats
Health claims surrounding e-cigarettes are going up in smoke. The latest puff of bad publicity? E-cigarette threats now officially include MRSA infections, too. Researchers at the University of the VA San Diego Healthcare System and the University of California–San Diego recently discovered that e-cigarettes appear to fuel potentially life-threatening drug-resistant pathogens.
In lab tests, e-cigarette vapor increased the virulence of MRSA while compromising human cells’ ability to fight off the hard-to-kill germs. MRSA prefers to colonize in the upper throat behind the nose, an area that’s continuously exposed to the vapors.
Stay Safe: Smoking regular cigarettes also creates a favorable habitat for MRSA, so your best bet is to quite all cigarettesas soon as possible. Visit the American Lung Association for help.
2. Your Airplane Armrest
Don’t let airplane germs ground your plans for healthy travel. Microbiologists and engineers from Auburn University found that nasty germs—including MRSA—were able to survive on airplane surfaces like armrests, plastic tray tables, and seat pockets for days.
Stay Safe: Wash your hands often—especially before eating. (Just don’t make these 5 classic hand-washing mistakes.) When washing’s not an option, turn to alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 70 percent alcohol to kill MRSA. Consider carrying on a few Seventh Generation disinfectant wipes in a baggie to disinfect your seating area on the plane.
3. Antibacterial Soap Users’ Noses
Antibacterial chemicals triclosan and triclocarban are commonly found in household soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, and cleaners. But University of Michigan researchers uncovered a dirty little secret: People living in homes using these products are likely to harbor triclosan in their noses, where it promotes the growth of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, possibly predisposing some people to MRSA infections.
Stay Safe: Wash your hands using regular soap and water. Government and university studies have proven this is just as effective as using antibacterial soap, without all the added risks. (Triclosan is also linked to thyroid damage and water pollution.)
4. Your Supermarket Meat
Here’s a reason to gag in the meat aisle. In 2011, researchers found that half of U.S. supermarket meat sampled contained staph bacteria, including hard-to-kill MRSA. The study appeared in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. Turkey products were the most likely to harbor staph bacteria, followed by pork and chicken products.
Stay Safe: Choose organic, Certified Humane, or Animal Welfare Approved meat at the supermarket to avoid drugged meat. Or find a local farmer who raises meat without the use of antibiotics. (Check out these 9 other appalling facts about your grocery store’s meat.)
5. Your Local Farm Field
Modern farming practices could be the root cause of exploding community-acquired MRSA rates, according to a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers found that people living near large conventional pig farms or around a series of smaller ones were significantly more likely to be diagnosed with a MRSA or other soft-tissue infection.
In fact, just living near a field that’s been fertilized with pig manure increases your risk. People living in the areas with the highest level of swine crop-field manure exposure faced about a 38 percent greater risk of a community-associated MRSA infection than people in areas with the lowest levels of exposure, according to lead study author Joan Casey, a Johns Hopkins graduate student.
Stay Safe: It might be hard to figure out exactly what farmers are applying to fields near you, but you could ask your county’s conservation district for details. And demand organic to help keep antibiotics (and the supergerms that their overuse breeds) out of the food—and manure—supply altogether.
6. Basketballs and Volleyballs
University of California–Irvine researchers recently discovered that basketballs and volleyballs harbor staph bacteria, including MRSA. In fact, with each dribble, basketballs accumulated more of the germs. What’s worse: They survived on the balls for 72 hours in storage-room conditions!
Stay Safe: Playing basketball is a great workout—so don’t let this keep you off of the court. Just be sure to cover up any open cuts before starting a game, wash your hands right after the final buzzer sounds, and shower as soon as possible afterward.
7. Your Doctor’s Tie
Multiple studies have detected MRSA on common surfaces in healthcare settings, including curtains and even doctors’ ties!
Stay Safe: You can stop this unfortunate transfer of bacteria by asking a few simple questions, including asking your doctor or nurse to wash his or her hands as soon as he or she enters the room. Before surgery, ask about a hospital’s infection rate, and find out if they have a “bundle” plan to prevent infections—that may include not wearing ties!
8. Your Family Member
A 2014 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesfound that you could easily pick up MRSA through such contact inside your house, especially if someone you know recently was sick with a MRSA infection.
Stay Safe: Summer’s the most common time to catch a community-acquired MRSA infection.
To prevent that:
• Wash your hands frequently.
• Shower before and after you visit pools, hot tubs, and saunas.
• Keep any open wounds covered.
• Shower after going to the gym or participating in a sporting event, and wash your workout clothes after each visit to the gym.
If you DO get an antibiotic-resistant infection, which will most likely appear as a boil on your skin, do this:
• Wash your clothes, bedding, and towels in hot water to kill lingering bacteria.
• Disinfect surfaces thoroughly with bleach (not the greenest option, but when you’re dealing with harmful bacteria, it’s a compromise worth making).