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Infectious Diseases

Staph infection

09/28/2006

Question:

A co-worker had hernia surgery and contacted a very severe case of staph infection. She was allowed to return to work wearing a drainage bag and then ended up back in the hospital becasue the infection got worse. She has now returned to work and is wearing an electric pump that is pumping from the surgery incision. We share the same computer, phone, desk etc... I am concerned about catching staph. Should she be allowed to return to work wearing that pump? How contagious is she if at all? We work in inpatient psychiatric acute care and she is in admitting.

Answer:

One of the most common causes of skin and soft tissue infections, especially after trauma or surgery, is Staphylococcus aureus or “staph”.  We know that this organism can be spread by contact, either direct contact with an infected patient or by indirect contact with their environment.  It appears that your co-worker is wearing a wound vacuum which contains the wound and she has probably also been on antibiotics.  Both these will reduce the risk of transmission.  It would be prudent for both of you to frequently wash your hands with soap and water or, preferably, use alcohol hand rub.  You could also periodically clean your work space with alcohol or an antiseptic wipe to reduce the chance of transmission of the staph bacteria from the environment.

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Response by:

Kurt B Stevenson, MD, MPH Kurt B Stevenson, MD, MPH
Professor of Infectious Diseases
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University