I am not a germaphobe. In fact, I’m a devout believer in the five-second rule, I don’t make people take off their shoes in my house and I loathe Purell. I even let my kids play with the toys at the doctor’s office (this is especially fun when there are other mothers telling their kids, “no, honey, put it down, that is soooooo dirty.”) And any time Matt Lauer does one of those specials about the bacteria lurking on your toilet/your kitchen sink/your keyboard, I change the channel. I always assumed those segments—and those infections—were for people who didn’t have the common sense to wash their hands. I was smarter than that, I thought. And then I got MRSA, the germiest germ of them all.
I just wrote this story for Shape magazine about my year-long ordeal with MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, AKA, the superbug). It’s a type of staph that has learned to outsmart most antibiotics and cause sometimes-fatal infections. It’s rampant in hospitals (where Alex and I picked it up after I gave birth to him back in 2008) but also in gyms, schools and daycares. The community strain isn’t nearly as deadly as the hospital strain but it’s still scary: In 2008, nearly 2,500 people died of the community strain (15,000 died from healthcare-associated MRSA). The thing is, it’s incredibly easy to spread—hand to hand contact is all it takes. But before you panic, there are ways to stay safe. For the piece, I interviewed a few experts from the CDC and they gave me great three great pieces of advice for parents.
One: Wash your hands, wash your kids’ hands, wash, wash, wash. This is such common sense but it’s really the best way to protect yourself and others from the spread of bacteria. Even if you get MRSA on your skin, it’s not necessarily going to be a problem (you can be colonized without having an infection), particularly if you wash it off immediately.
Two: Always cover any cuts or scrapes. The old let it breathe idea is not such a good one because the way bacteria like MRSA becomes an issue is when it gets into your system through cracked skin—cuts, scrapes, bites, any break in the skin. Invest in some Band-Aids, stat!
Three: Speaking of bug bites, MRSA infections are often mistaken for spider bites so if you notice any on your kids—and notice that they’re not going away—have them checked out immediately. MRSA infections are treatable with the right antibiotic (doctors just have to realize it’s MRSA that they’re dealing with so they know how to treat it) but the longer it goes untreated, the trickier it becomes.
As for going to the hospital, which is sometimes unavoidable (as I learned recently with Nora), just try not to touch anything while you’re there! Kidding. But you’re going to want to hit those little Purell stations as much as possible. Here’s the most disturbing thing I learned from reporting the piece: Less than half of health care personnel actually wash their hands when they should. Which means they could be passing MRSA from patient to patient without even realizing it. So don’t be shy about asking your doctor or nurse to hit the sink before examining you, even during a routine checkup. The good news: Recent CDC data reveals that healthcare-related MRSA cases have dropped by 28 percent in the past three years—thanks, in part, to a “hand hygiene saves lives” campaign (my mom works in a hospital and she wears a button that says “Have you washed your hands today?”)
That’s how important it is to simply wash your hands. Have you washed yours yet today? I am a devout hand-washer and I try try try to have the kids wash their hands as much as possible, though it often involves a power struggle. Check out the story if you can. There’s lots of good info and more tips for how to stay safe in other MRSA hotspots—like in gym locker room, nail salons and more…. Let me know your thoughts!