Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Study Finds MRSA 'Superbug' Lurking At Washington Firehouses

Billy V
Nearly 60 percent of firehouses sampled by UW School of Public Health researchers tested positive for MRSA.

Fighting fires is a dangerous job, and new research on firehouses around Washington state has revealed another hazard — one that lurks on firefighters’ boots, their trucks and even their TV remotes.

MRSA is a nasty and sometimes deadly bacterium that’s hard to kill with antibiotics. It’s normally associated with hospitals, nursing homes or prisons, but researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health recently tested 33 firehouses for the presence of MRSA. They found the bug at 19 of those firehouses. Twelve crews reported having at least one member who’d gotten an infection requiring medical care.

Marilyn Roberts, professor of environmental and occupational health sciences, said firefighters and paramedics tend to pick up the bug in the field.

“Personnel, on their uniforms, on their feet, etc., get contaminated when they go out for a call. They contaminate the garage area and then bring it into the living quarters,” she said.

Roberts said researchers found MRSA in the ambulances and trucks, as well as on kitchen surfaces and quite a bit on the TV remote.

MRSA infections killed more than 18,000 Americans in 2005 (the last year tracked by the Centers for Disease Control), though early detection can improve your chances. And Roberts said the more places you look for the bug, the more you find.

“We’ve had sports teams that have had MRSA. We’ve had sororities that have had MRSA. We’ve found MRSA in the university setting, in the library setting, on ATM keypads. It’s everywhere,” she said.

Just in case that list sent you off into a germaphobic tailspin, Roberts added that you shouldn’t be paranoid. Washing hands, cleaning high-touch surfaces and laundering your gym clothes can significantly cut your risk.

The study was published in the American Journal of Infection Control.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.

Why Support KNKX?

You depend on KNKX for trusted, in-depth local news, music by knowledgeable hosts and enlightening NPR programs. We depend on members for more than half of our financial support.

Give Today