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Superbug MRSA found on ambulance oxygen tanks, floors, door handle raising need for vigilance in prehospital setting, study shows

Results support the need to develop "universal disinfection protocols" for such equipment and areas to cut down on the risk of infecting patients.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

A new study published in the Emergency Medicine Journal shows that the much-talked-about threat of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA, isn't just found inside hospitals. The research shows the threat exists for patients before they even get to a hospital bed, with the potentially deadly bacteria showing up on oxygen tanks in ambulances, ambulance floors and even on ambulance door handles.


The study's primary goal was to see if MRSA is present in the prehospital setting, specifically on the surface of oxygen cylinders and regulators used in ambulances, and to assess other areas as well. The results indicate that in fact, oxygen cylinders can harbor MRSA, increasing the risk of passing it on to vulnerable patients. The results also support the need to develop "universal disinfection protocols" for such equipment and areas so as to cut down on the risk of infecting patients.

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The surfaces of oxygen tanks and regulators in ambulances at an emergency medical services station in North Alabama and at an offsite oxygen cylinder storage area were swabbed to test for the presence of MRSA.

Of the nine oxygen cylinders tested in the ambulances, all nine had MRSA colonization. Researchers also found MRSA on 67 of 70 oxygen cylinders that were tested at the offsite oxygen cylinder storage area. According to a Reuters report on the study, the floors of all three ambulance floors tested were found to have MRSA colonization as well as a door handle.

Study author Cody Vaughn Gibson, from the Department of Natural Sciences at Calhoun Community College in Decatur, Alabama. He cautioned that because tanks are exchanged between facilities, the potential exists for the bacteria to spread across large areas.


A separate expert, Michael David, assistant professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia, told Reuter that this issue in not one that gets a lot of attention, but should.

"This paper raises the problem of these specific objects being contaminated by MRSA and resulting in a previously unaddressed reservoir of MRSA in ambulances," he told Reuters Health. "This observation importantly may result in new standard procedures to clean these objects with an antiseptic between uses."

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
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