Study: Ambulance equipment likely contaminated with MRSA superbug

Researchers found MRSA on all nine oxygen tanks they tested from three ambulances in Alabama


By News Staff

TANNER, Ala. — A recent study suggested that ambulance oxygen tanks are likely contaminated with the MRSA superbug.

Researchers at Calhoun Community College tested nine oxygen tanks from three ambulances at an Alabama EMS agency and found MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, on all of them, Reuters reported.

A recent study suggested that ambulance equipment could be contaminated with MRSA. (Photo/Cody Gibson)
A recent study suggested that ambulance equipment could be contaminated with MRSA. (Photo/Cody Gibson)

MRSA was also found on 96 percent of stored oxygen tanks at the agency.

“Oxygen cylinders are exchanged pretty rapidly between facilities, they (need) to be refilled, they’re not like normal pieces of medical equipment or supplies, which are disposable,” study author Cody Gibson said.

Gibson added that the bacteria could be spread across large areas due to the frequency of tank exchange between facilities, and said MRSA could be on the tanks because of a lack of universal protocol for disinfecting oxygen equipment.

Researchers asked EMS personnel if they remembered the last time the oxygen tanks were disinfected, and they could not remember.

Study author Cody Gibson said the MRSA superbug could be spread across large areas due to the frequency of tank exchange between facilities. (Photo/Cody Gibson)
Study author Cody Gibson said the MRSA superbug could be spread across large areas due to the frequency of tank exchange between facilities. (Photo/Cody Gibson)

“While it would be safe to say there is no ‘universal’ protocol for disinfection of an ambulance, there are a number of guidelines available for agencies to develop their own policy and procedure for ambulance disinfection,” NAEMSP President-Elect Dr. David Tan said. “MRSA exists in firehouses and EMS stations as well, and the challenge is finding universally effective disinfection procedures and techniques that are both effective and efficient, especially in busier EMS services where there is constant system pressure to get back in service to answer the next call for help.”

Dr. Michael David, assistant professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia, said the issue of decontaminating oxygen tanks is “under-addressed.”

“This paper raises the problem of these specific objects being contaminated by MRSA and resulting in a previously unaddressed reservoir of MRSA in ambulances,” he said. “This observation importantly may result in new standard procedures to clean these objects with an antiseptic between uses.”

Gibson pointed out that it is unclear whether anyone was infected by the bacteria, and added that the study only looked at one EMS station at one point in time.

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