Drug-Resistant MRSA Can Spread Via Toothbrushes and Towels, Scientists Warn

A drug-resistant infection can be spread via household items such as refrigerator door handles, the TV remote, toothbrushes and towels, scientists have warned.

The study published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases honed in on what is known as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which can cause staph infections in the skin and lungs, and is resistant to several forms of antibiotics. Untreated MRSA can cause sepsis, which can lead to organ failure and even death.

Over a year, researchers made five visits to the homes of 150 children treated for MRSA infections at St Louis healthcare facilities between 2012 and 2015. The children were aged 3 on average. A total of 692 family members, as well as 154 cats and dogs, took part.

During each visit, researchers collected an average of 35 specimens, amounting to 3,819 samples in total by the end of the study. They swabbed sinks, refrigerator door handles, bathroom countertops, bath towels, bedsheets, light switches, telephones, TVs, video game controllers and computer keyboards and mice. The humans had their nostrils, armpits and groins swabbed, while the animals their noses and backs as this is where they are most often petted.

The bedsheets of the child with the initial infection were found to be most often contaminated with MRSA. The refrigerator door handle, meanwhile, was the most contaminated kitchen site; the TV remote control the electronic device most likely to be teeming with the bugs; and the sink was the most contaminated place in the bathroom.

Sharing bedrooms, beds, hand, face and body towels, or hygiene items—such as a razor or hairbrush— was also likely to help the spread of MRSA, the researchers found.

The infection was also significantly more like to infect others in homes that were unclean, rented and with a higher number of people per square foot. And, perhaps unexpectedly, pets were more likely to catch MRSA from people than visa versa.

Study co-author Dr. Stephanie Fritz, professor of pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told Newsweek a new strain of MRSA emerged in the 1990s, which resulted in an epidemic of skin infections among otherwise healthy people—particularly children.

The infections are often treated by draining the site, which can be painful, as well as a course of antibiotics, said Fritz. These infections are often experienced by many members within a household, and half of patients will develop recurrent skin infections.

"We really wanted to get to the root of the problem and understand how people acquire MRSA," said Fritz, by understanding how MRSA gets into households, and spreads, particularly from person-to person contact and sharing items, as well as the role cats and dogs might play.

Co-author Patrick Hogan a Clinical Research Specialist at the Washington University School of Medicine told Newsweek: "Wash your hands! We can't emphasize this enough. Although this sounds obvious, we know that even in high-risk settings such as hospitals, the frequency of handwashing is suboptimal."

"Yet, this simple practice can protect you from bringing MRSA into your home," he said. "Once these strains get in, they can take hold within the household niche and it is much harder to get rid of them, rather than preventing them from getting in to begin with. We also discourage people from sharing personal hygiene items."

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A stock image shows personal hygiene items including toothbrushes. Scientists have warned against sharing such items to prevent the spread of MRSA. Getty