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MRSA, a sometimes deadly staph infection, could be prevented in hospitals if as much attention was paid to cleaning frequently touched surfaces as is given to employee hand washing, a new study has found. The research conducted at Southern General Hospital in Glasgow, Scotland found that targeted cleaning could actually do more to prevent the spread of highly contagious MRSA.

MRSA, short for methicillin-resistant Staphlococcus aureas, has been ravaging schools across the US this year. The drug resistant infection has been reported in schools in at least a half dozen states, and recently killed one student in Virginia and another in New York. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), MRSA, characterized as a “Superbug” by some, is responsible for more deaths each year in the United States than the AIDS virus.

Despite the recent publicity surrounding MRSA in schools, the infection is far more likely to occur in hospitals. And so far, despite campaigns to increase employee awareness about good hand washing practices, hospitals have not been able to stem the rising tide of MRSA infections. But the Scottish research has finally given hospitals some insights into preventing deadly MRSA. While the new study doesn’t downplay the importance of hand washing, it says that cleaning frequently touched surfaces could be even more helpful in preventing MRSA.

The research consisted of a review of studies detailing hospital cleaning practices. The Scottish review noted that in most hospitals, cleanliness is judged by appearance. But the lack of dirt does not mean a lack of infectious bacteria. The report noted that while 82% to 91% percent of hospital surfaces look clean, only 30% to 50% were free of bacteria. MRSA bacteria can infect pretty much every surface in a hospital, and because it is very resilient, the bacteria can stick around for a while. This puts everyone in the hospital at risk for contracting MRSA.

Fortunately, there are ways that hospitals can combat the MRSA problem. Virtually any cleaning, even vacuuming, will eliminate some MRSA bacteria. More frequent liquid disinfectant cleaning of door handles and other surfaces that are touched frequently would be extremely helpful in reducing MRSA infections. And hospitals should thoroughly disinfect a hospital room after a patient is discharged, as one person’s MRSA can linger for hours.