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ETMC Athens battles to lower number of dangerous skin infections

Around the first of the year, Debbie Gardiner received a thick packet from the state’s health services department. The contents of the packet consisted of page after page of information to be shared with area schools on how to prevent the spread of a very dangerous and increasingly common type of skin infection known as MRSA.

The information was complete, thorough and comprehensive. It was also about as exciting as tree bark.
“We could have sent the information to all the school districts, but it’s dull and boring,” deadpanned Gardiner, director of risk management at ETMC Athens. So Gardiner discussed the matter with Louise Graham, her across-the-hall coworker who is also the hospital’s director of infection control.
They decided to forego forwarding the packets to school nurses and focused instead on their audience: kids from kindergarten through high school. They struck upon the idea of creating a poster that distills infection prevention down to five simple-but-essential principles: wash your hands; clean and cover your scratch with a Band-Aid; don’t eat or drink from the same cup; cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough; and clean your school gym equipment daily.

500 posters distributed
With the help of Data Manager Sadie Meazell and Nurse Quality Director Michelle Whittenberg, who designed the poster, the idea culminated recently in 500 posters being distributed by ETMC Athens to schools in the Henderson County area and many area churches housing daycares.
Why such an effort to promote the importance of some of the basic rules of good hygiene? Because Henderson County, like many other counties, has reflected a statewide trend with a notable spike in the diagnoses of community acquired MRSA from patients presenting to the emergency room where treatment is sought early.

MRSA explained
“MRSA is a skin and soft-tissue infection, and if it’s not treated early, it can develop into a serious, even life-threatening infection,” warned Graham.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus – or MRSA – is a type of Staph bacteria that is resistant to the more common antibiotics. It can be a pimple, rash, boil or an open wound, and it’s often misdiagnosed as a spider bite. Young or old, even the cleanest person can be susceptible.

“You can prevent MRSA the same way you prevent most skin and soft-tissue infections,” explained Graham. “So we decided to use the posters not just to target MRSA infections, but all skin infections.

Thanks to mosquitoes and our tendency to break the skin while scratching their bites, summer is high season for Staph infections, which can potentially develop into MRSA.

Graham said any bite, cut, scrape or bump that looks inflamed, that appears to be infected or is draining should be washed with soap and water, treated with an over-the-counter triple-antibiotic ointment and covered with a Band-Aid. That kind of early treatment usually does the trick.
“If you’re treating something that looks about like a mosquito bite, that’s early,” explained Graham. “But if, after treating it, it doesn’t get better, you need to go to your doctor. A Staph infection doesn’t always become MRSA, but it can.”
According to the Department of State Health Services, the single most effective method of preventing a skin infection is something moms have preached for ages. That is, wash you hands with soap and water.

Mother knows best.