Can Better Air Hydration Combat MRSA Infections?
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a bacterium “superbug” resistant to many antibiotics. While one strain of MRSA is a very common organism in our environment, carried by an estimated 70% of the population, in hospitals there’s another strain of MRSA that is potentially deadly. An estimated 72,444 U.S citizens are infected with MSRA each year, and 9,194 people die annually as a result.
A MRSA infection can shake the foundation of a family from the core with little to no notice. Highlighted in this recent TIME Health essay, a family man contracted a MRSA infection following routine knee surgery to repair an ACL tear; the subsequent medical bills totaled more than $300,000 and pushed his family to the brink financially.
Why are MRSA Infections So Common in Hospitals?
Nortec medical consultant Stephanie Taylor, MD, points to four main contributing factors. One, Staph aureus is omnipresent, a common bacteria that lives on our skin and causes no trouble unless it gets in the wrong place. Two, the widespread use of antibiotics in hospitals forces the evolution of resistant bugs. Three, in the hospital environment, patients routinely have breaches in the skin, whether it’s a surgical incision or an IV. This opens the door to infection. “Then the biggest thing that’s not addressed is the potential for transmission through indoor air,” says Dr. Taylor. “It is known now that MRSA bacteria can travel on skin flakes and through the air.”
Proper Indoor Air Hydration is the Solution
“The biggest preventative factor would be hydrating the air,” explains Dr. Taylor. “Proper indoor air hydration would allow for decreased transmission through the air.” Improved indoor air hydration would also allow for more effective surface cleaning, as horizontal surfaces would not be continually recontaminated by pathogens settling in a dry indoor air environment.
Maintaining indoor relative humidity (RH) levels between 40% and 60% decreases the survival of infectious bacteria in the air. Through the interruption of pathogen transmission routes in health care centers, indoor environments can better control the spread of not just MRSA infections, but other healthcare-associated infections (HAIs – also known as hospital acquired infections). This is particularly important as 33 out of every 100 patients experience a medical error during hospitalization.
Adding to the problem is the fact that current indoor air quality guidelines for hospitals do not specify an RH level in patient care areas, nor is hydration measured in patient rooms. Paradoxically, building guidelines are pushing to lower operating room relative humidity because of clinician comfort and perceived problems humidify cool spaces. However, this places the patient at increased risk of surgical site infection.
Proper air hydration should be regarded as an exciting new tool that is available to all hospital to help decrease MRSA and other HAIs. The standardization and regulation of higher RH levels in healthcare facilities is a move that is estimated to reduce healthcare costs by 30% or more and improve patient outcomes, allowing for vastly increased care efficiency and quicker recovery times. In short, proper air hydration is precisely the shot in the arm that the U.S. healthcare industry needs.