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Study: MRSA Common Among Some Dental Students

1 in 5 UAW Dental Students Tested Carried the Drug-Resistant Staph Strain
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Sept. 29, 2011 -- Dental students in a Seattle study had very high rates of colonization with MRSA, the drug-resistant strain of staph, raising new questions about the prevalence of the bacteria outside of hospitals in community health care settings.

People who are colonized with MRSA carry the bacteria in their nose or on their skin, but they may or may not have signs or symptoms of infection. They can spread MRSA to others, however.

Nasal swabs from one in five University of Washington (UAW) Dental School students tested showed evidence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and four of seven dental clinics at the school also tested positive for the bacteria in samples taken from dental chairs and floors.

The rate of MRSA colonization was significantly higher than that reported in the general population and in other non-hospital medical settings, but an official with the CDC says the public should not be overly alarmed by the findings.

Arjun Srinivasan, MD, says the high MRSA rate suggests a specific transmission at the UAW facility and is probably not indicative of rates in dental offices in general.

Srinivasan is assistant director for the CDC’s Healthcare-Associated Infection Prevention Program.

“This study is one of the first to look at MRSA in the dental setting, but it was a small study with just 61 dental students in one facility,” Srinivasan tells WebMD. “We don’t believe this study necessarily represents a systematic problem in dental clinics across the country.”

Community MRSA Rates Rising

MRSA is usually highly resistant to the antibiotics most often used to treat staph infections, and it is a significant cause of illness and death among hospitalized patients with compromised immune systems.

Infections that happen outside the hospital setting -- known as community-acquired MRSA -- tend to occur in otherwise healthy people and they typically show up as skin infections.

Recent surveys suggest that hospital-acquired MRSA has declined within the past few years, while rates of community-acquired MRSA appear to be increasing, according to the CDC.

Outbreaks of community-acquired MRSA have been reported in locker rooms, gymnasiums, prisons, military barracks, and other facilities where skin-to-skin contact is common and people share close quarters.

It is not clear how many people carry MRSA, but studies suggest that health care workers have slightly higher rates of colonization than the general population, University of Washington professor of environmental and occupational health Marilyn C. Roberts, PhD, tells WebMD.

MRSA Common in Buffalo Dental Study

In a study reported earlier this year, Roberts and colleagues found a high rate of MRSA colonization among a group of Seattle-area firefighters.

In their latest investigation conducted at the UAW dental school, the researchers took nasal swabs from 61 dental students and swabbed 95 surfaces considered potential reservoirs for MRSA.

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

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American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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