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Firemen and fire stations found to harbor MRSA

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
MRSA in fire stations

According to a new investigation, fire stations could be a previously unidentified source of MRSA –methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus.

The finding, published in the American Journal of Infection Control, is the first to isolate the drug resistant superbug from a non-health care source.

Marilyn C. Roberts, PhD, University of Washington School of Public Health said, "This is the first study to molecularly characterize MRSA isolates from fire station environmental surfaces and the first study to sample both fire station surfaces and personnel…”

For the study, conducted by Washington School of Public Health researchers, samples were collected from medic trucks, kitchens, bathrooms, fire trucks, fire engines, gear, gyms and other areas of fire stations, for a total of nine different areas, in two facilities and from nasal swabs of firemen.

The purpose was to match possible bacterial contamination among firemen and fire houses to community and hospital strains of the bacteria.

MRSA isolated in firemen and in fire stations

The study found surfaces commonly contaminated with MRSA included medic trucks with 13 (50%), kitchen areas with 3 (11.5%) and other areas such as computer keyboards and computer desks with 2 (7.7%) among the first cultures of 600 samples.

Testing was performed for methicillin-resistant coagulase negative Staphylococcus spp. (MRCoNS), and coagulase negative Staphylococcus spp. (CoNS).

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In the second set of tests that included 464 surfaces in addition to nasal samples from 40 healthy fire personnel from 13 stations, there were 18 (3.9%) of the 464 surface sampled that were again MRSA positive.

Two samples found a type of the methicillin resistant bacteria commonly found in hospitals, known as MRSA SCCmec type II that was isolated from the fire truck, fire engine and garage area.

The fire station medic truck, kitchen and outer gear were also found to be contaminated with the superbug.

Also in the second sampling, 30 percent of cultures taken from the nasal passage of the firemen were positive for MRSA or staph aureus – 9 and 3 samples respectively.

The study authors concluded firemen interact with both the community and hospitals, raising the potential for exposure to MRSA. The researchers also say more studies are needed to determine if the investigation would yield the same results throughout the United States. The current study was performed in fire stations in the northwestern U.S.

Risk factors for spreading infection that can come from methicillin resistant staph aureus include crowded living conditions. The study authors say firemen may be bringing MRSA into the fire station then contaminating their living quarters with the superbug that causes 19,000 deaths annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

American Journal of Infection Control
"Isolation and characterization of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus
from fire stations in two northwest fire districts"
Marilyn C. Roberts, et al

Image credit: Morguefile