MRSA kits reveal trouble in fire stations

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SEATTLE -- More than half of the 33 fire stations taking part in a survey tested positive for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) somewhere the building.

The survey also found that roughly a third of the stations had at least one employee who tested positive for the antibiotic resistant strain of staph bacteria.

Professor Marilyn Roberts with the University Of Washington School Of Public Health organized the study three years ago after discovering MRSA in both fire houses she tested in Western Washington.

She designed MRSA testing kits and sent them to 33 stations around the state.

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She called the results surprisingly high and is helping departments come up with better ways to protect themselves from the bacteria they contact from each other and while treating people during emergency calls.

MRSA was found in common living areas, bedrooms, exercise rooms and other parts of the fire houses.

Some departments are requiring firefighters to leave all their gear and equipment in the garage before washing up and entering common areas.

But Roberts warns MRSA is very durable and can survive for weeks on surfaces firefighters touch almost daily.

Firefighters use gloves and other protective gear to protect all the patients they treat in the field, so they pose little risk to the public.

Roberts says the real threat is to the firefighters and their families.