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February 25, 2009

BehindTheMedspeak: Clap your hands say yeah — you're carrying MRSA


Here's Kathleen Hom's February 3, 2009 Washington Post Health section story.


A Show of Hands Reveals the Value of Good Hygiene

This may look like an art project your kid brought home, but it's actually a startling visual lesson in the importance of hospital hygiene. During a year-long study at Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, doctors discovered a 24-year-old patient densely colonized by methicillin-resistant staph bacteria — better known as MRSA — even though he showed no symptoms.

MRSA, the scare bug of the 21st century, is resistant to drugs usually prescribed to treat it and is associated with 19,000 U.S. deaths a year, according to a 2007 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

To show how infected — and contagious — an asymptomatic carrier could be, a physician examined the patient with an ungloved hand and then pressed his hand into a petri dish like the one on the right. After incubation, researchers were surprised to see MRSA bacteria growing in the dish so thickly, left, that images of the physician's fingers are easily discernable.

According to Curtis Donskey, chairman of the hospital's infection control committee, this demonstrates the need for hospital staffers to wash hands thoroughly even after examining "patients who you wouldn't otherwise expect would be at high risk of transferring MRSA."


Tell you what: I'm convinced.

But then, I've been a fanatic about clean hands and gloves ever since the early 1980s, when the disease that would come to be known as AIDS was first described in a report from doctors at UCLA, where I was on the anesthesiology faculty.

When I left L.A. and came to Charlottesville, the other faculty in my Podunk university town's teaching hospital laughed at me because I wore gloves 100% of the time in the OR.

I told them, "just wait."

February 25, 2009 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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