Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Truth about MRSA (Without the Media Panic)

Okay, my friends. For the last week or so, the media have gotten Americans all worked up into a froth about this "deadly new bacteria" called MRSA. My ER is now inundated with frantic phone calls from people who have no idea what they are looking at, or what the disease really is.

One charming woman (who clearly smoked wayyyyyyyy too much) called amid the throes of a panic attack because she found a pimple and was convinced beyond all attempts to reason with her that she was "gonna die of Melissa."

"Ah, you mean MRSA." I corrected the hyperventilating woman on the phone.

"What's that?" she asked with a voice that reminded me of Bosley from Charlie's Angels.

"Never mind," I sighed, rubbing my eyes.

Well, after a full rotation of charming phone conversations such as that one, and a waiting room filled with wild-eyed impressionable souls, I have had just about a dang nuff of this.

I get tired of the media feeding crap to the public about infectious diseases. This case is no different. (But that perky anchorwoman wouldn't BS you about something that involves your well-being, would she? After all, she furrowed her brow when she said it. Furrowed! Her! Brow! And with all that Botox on board, that takes some effort, Spanky!)

Oh, of course that cute little newsbabe wouldn't BS you. She cares about you. Kum-bah-frigging-yah. Please clean up before you leave.

Well, here is the real scoop, Alley Oop.

I am an Emergency Department nurse, and I have encountered patients with MRSA a gajillion times. (By "encountered" I mean, "assisted in cutting open and draining their wounds, packed their wounds, and changed their wound dressings." And by "gajillion," I mean "gajillion.") I have- gasp!- touched a person who has MRSA. And wouldn't you know- I never got it. And I don't pass it on to other patients, either.

(Gosh! How can this be? He touches the leper and he does not become unclean! What manner of man is this!?)

Look, folks. It is really very simple. I know how to protect myself from it, and I know how to protect my patients from it. And because I understand MRSA, I don't get freaked out when I see an ingrown hair on my arm. I will tell you why. And when you read this, you will become just as confident as I am, because you will know the truth.

Are you ready? Here we go.

1. Wash your hands with soap and WARM water.

Any soap will do. It doesn't have to be Hibiclens(TM), or any other ludicrously expensive antimicrobial soap for that matter. Just plain old soap and water. ANY old soap is "antibacterial" when used correctly; All you have to do is make LOTS of suds. Its the suds that make a soap antibacterial. "Really?" you ask. "How so?" you ask. Well, settle down and I will tell you: Suds form micelles around dirt and bacteria and lift them from the skin's surface to be rinsed away to the black hell from whence they came.

Don't use hot water, because hot water dissolves the natural oils on your hand that keep your skin from drying out and cracking. (Cracks are openings deep into the skin. Openings deep into the skin invite bacteria.) Don't use cold water, either, because cold water will not produce decent suds, and it will not rinse all the soap away from your skin, so your skin will dry and crack. (Again, cracked skin says, "Hey bacteria! Par-tay over here!") So remember: not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

Wash- and rinse- AND dry- under those pretty rings on your fingers. Rings hide light- that means darkness. Moisture hides under rings- that means bacteria. Darkness + bacteria= EEEWWW.

And come on, folks. REALLY wash your hands. For fifteen seconds. None of that "happy birthday" song crap (which I can sing in five seconds). Sing your ABCs; THAT's a fifteen-second song. Fifteen seconds should also cover roughly two limericks, if that's more your style. That includes slurring of speech secondary to alcohol consumption.

Dry your hands completely, including under those stylish rings. Water = bacteria. If you don't dry, you just defeated the purpose of step 1.

And don't you DARE just splash your hands in the water and then shake them off! If you do that, you are the one spreading this crap around. Stop it! Bacteria L-O-V-E-S moisture. And where you just had your hands- bacteria loves that place too. So when you exit the bathroom and go smoke that cigarette and eat your sushi, guess what else you're putting in your mouth- or into the mouth of that hottie of yours when you try to be cute and feed her an hoeurs-d'oeuvres?

Nothing says "I love you" like a mouthful of Enterococcus faecalis or Candida albicans.

2. Use enough alcohol-based hand sanitizer to cover ALL of your hands, including under the nails and rings. With Brylcreem, a little dab'll do ya. With hand sanitizer, you need enough to wash EVERY FILTHY BIT of your hands for the same length of time as demonstrated in part 1, above.

3. Take a shower. I mean on a daily basis. Good personal hygiene is your friend. Remember those micelles? They do the same thing wherever you create them.

4. Cover your boo-boo. Even if you don't have MRSA, if you rub that boo-boo over someone who has it or something upon which MRSA rests, guess what? You get MRSA! See how this works?

5. Don't touch someone else's boo-boo. Wherever it is. Draw your own picture. Leave me out of it.

6. Don't touch any bandages that cover someone else's boo-boo. That's self-explanatory.

7. Don't share your towels, razors, or anything that touches your or someone else's boo-boo. Yes, that means you married/joint domicile people, too. Think about where that towel/razor/dressing has been. Can somebody give me a BLEEEEEEYAAHHHHHH!?

If you want a version of the game that tells you the same thing but spares you the rapier-like wit, go to The Official Center For Disease Control MRSA Website and fall asleep in the middle of it.

And one last thing: MRSA has been around for years. And that cute little news-floozy is just playing you for ratings.

UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me, and correctly so, that MRSA can stay viable on a hard surface for a long time (some studies state for three months). There is a way to defeat this threat: Simply wash all contact surfaces (countertops, toilets, sinks, doorknobs, etc.) with a bleachy solution. Those Clorox (TM) handy-wipes that you can pull out one at a time will do just fine. Just wear gloves while you use them, as bleach can irritate the skin.