CU-Boulder Urges Students, Faculty, Staff To Step Up Hand Washing, General Hygiene In Wake Of Increased MRSA Infections

October 22, 2007

Health officials at the University of Colorado at Boulder are urging students, faculty and staff to be vigilant in their daily hygiene, frequently washing their hands and wiping down shared athletic equipment following detection and treatment of eight cases of community-associated MRSA, or Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, at the Wardenburg Health Center.

The eight cases among CU-Boulder students, while not a high number, is higher than usual for the academic year to date, said Dr. Pam Talley, lead physician in the medical clinic at CU-Boulder's Wardenburg Health Center. The eight student cases have been treated at Wardenburg since Aug. 17.

The CU-Boulder cases do not represent an outbreak and the majority of the eight cases seen at Wardenburg Health Center do not appear to be related to each other. The case histories do not suggest a common source, either in the health care facility or in the general university community. Of the eight cases, two of the students lived in residence halls and the rest lived off campus.

Typically the CU-Boulder campus health center treats about six cases in a year, Talley said. The increase at CU-Boulder appears to be part of state and national increases in reported cases of community-associated MRSA over the last several years. Reported cases of community-associated MRSA are on the rise throughout the country.

All of the CU-Boulder students treated at Wardenburg Health Center have responded well to treatment and have been able to attend classes and function normally, showing no signs of side effects from the infection or their treatment, Dr. Talley said. However, anyone who has a persistent, recurring or aggressive skin lesion should see a health care provider.

In addition to treating the affected students, steps the campus has taken to prevent the spread of MRSA and to notify CU-Boulder students, faculty and staff include:

o Cleaning all residence hall restrooms with a hospital-grade disinfectant. All public and community restrooms in residence halls have two cleaning/disinfectant products: a hand-soap product recommended by Wardenburg Health Center and a hand sanitizer.

o In the CU Recreation Center and in the team facilities used by student-athletes, advisories are being posted in workout areas advising more frequent cleaning of equipment. Some recreation center sports equipment thought to be conducive to transmitting infection, such as speed-bag gloves, is being withdrawn. Items that cannot be discontinued -- such as racquet handles -- will be sprayed with disinfectant after each use. Hockey equipment is already disinfected regularly but a stronger product will be used.

o Advisories are being posted in residence halls to educate students about community-associated MRSA infections and prevention methods. Similar warnings have been posted in all athletic facilities and common areas on campus.

o A fact sheet has been posted on the main CU-Boulder home page and on the CU Connect student Web portal. Information also is posted on Wardenburg Health Center's Web site. A Q&A with Dr. Talley has been posted on the front page of Wardenburg's Web site at www.colorado.edu/healthcenter/.

o Training, education and cleanliness procedures are being stepped up among staff in appropriate areas. Custodians are reviewing cleaning protocols and disinfecting surfaces such as door knobs, phones and multiuser athletic equipment with warm water and soap, diluted bleach, Lysol, Original Pine Sol or other strong disinfectants.

o In addition to advising all students, staff and faculty to follow good hand-washing and hygiene practices, health experts are advising people not to share personal items such as towels, razors, soap bars, washcloths and clothing. People are advised to practice frequent hand washing, keep living environments clean and to cover any lesions or abscesses to prevent spread of infection.

Community-associated MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a strain of staph infection that occurs in otherwise healthy people who have not been hospitalized or had an invasive medical procedure, such as surgery or dialysis, in the past year. Community-associated MRSA infections usually occur as skin infections, such as abscesses, boils and other pus-filled lesions that may appear to be 'spider bites' (see community-associated MRSA on the CDC Web site at: www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dhqp/ar_mrsa_ca.html).

News reports last week focused on health care-associated MRSA, which occurs among patients who have undergone invasive medical procedures or who have weakened immune systems and are being treated in hospitals and health care facilities such as nursing homes and dialysis centers. For more information on health care-associated MRSA go to: www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dhqp/ar_MRSA_spotlight_2006.html.

Lesions caused by community-acquired MRSA can result in painful sores, which can be easily treated with antibiotics or by draining and cleaning the lesion, said Dr. Talley. If treated properly, the lesions heal with no lingering effects. However, more serious infections may cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections or other more serious complications.

Factors that have been associated with the spread of community-acquired MRSA skin infections include close skin-to-skin contact, openings in the skin such as cuts or abrasions, contaminated items and surfaces, crowded living conditions and poor hygiene.

For more information on MRSA infections, please call the Wardenburg Health Center information line at (303) 492-8741 or visit the following links:

Wardenburg Health Center Web page: www.colorado.edu/healthcenter/

The Centers for Disease Control Web page:

www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dhqp/ar_mrsa_ca_public.html - 8.