A University of Arizona study found high levels of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria in Tucson Fire Department stations, said Kelly Reynolds, associate professor of environmental health sciences at the university’s Zuckerman College of Public Health. MRSA is a potentially deadly infection that shows up as a rash and is caused by a strain of staph bacteria that can become resistant to antibiotics.
“Ten percent of the sites in the firehouse were positive for MRSA,” she said. “That is much higher than what we see in office buildings and individual homes.”
Researchers took 500 samples from nine Tucson firehouses, testing different surfaces inside stations, training sites and offices of emergency medical responders. Reynolds said sites were sampled every five days for a total of 10 times over a period of two months. They found the highest prevalence of MRSA bacteria on the couches, classroom desks and commonly touched office surfaces, she said.
Reynolds said it is unknown why there is a higher incident of MRSA in firehouses, but it may be because firefighters come in contact with patient populations that are common carriers of MRSA, such as the elderly, prisoners and the homeless. To reduce the spread of infection, she said fire departments need to put into place preventative measure, such as having hand sanitizers available at the firehouse, encouraging hand-washing after runs and regularly disinfecting surfaces.
“Firefighters need to make sure when they come back from calls that they don’t bring their contaminated equipment — such as shoes and clipboards — into the station house,” Reynolds said. “They also should designate clean and dirty areas, clean being the areas where they sleep and eat. That’s the area where you really don’t want to have dirty clothes, dirty shoes and dirty equipment.”
The research, published in the American Journal of Infection Control, is the only published study to date on MRSA contamination in fire stations, she said.