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Raising awareness of 'superbugs'

Roxanna Thompson
Northern News Services
Thursday, December 06, 2007

Deh Cho - A regular Deh Cho health practice is coincidentally falling into line with a new territorial campaign aimed at preventing the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Daniele Gregoire, the regional health promotion officer for Deh Cho Health and Social Services, demonstrates the correct way to wash hands, one way to prevent the spread of superbugs. - Roxanna Thompson/NNSL photo

Faced with a growing rate of Community-Associated Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (CA-MRSA), the government of the Northwest Territories launched a public education campaign last week to inform residents about how to avoid contracting the "superbug."

"We've decided to become more proactive about superbugs before it becomes a larger problem in the Northwest Territories," said Sandy Lee, minister of health and social services during a press conference in Yellowknife.

Part of the awareness initiative is informing people about the importance good hygiene, such as hand washing, plays in preventing the spread of bacteria.

In the Deh Cho residents have already been given a head start on being informed about how to stay healthy.

One of the Deh Cho Health and Social Services' focuses this year was a hand washing campaign, said Tracy Humphrey, manager of health services.

"It's not new to nursing that hand washing is your first line of defence," said Humphrey.

To promote hand washing, last year hand sanitizer stations were installed in health centres and health cabins across the Deh Cho. Posters have also been placed in bathroom stalls and by light switches in schools and business reminding people of the importance of washing their hands, Humphrey said.

Since October, Daniele Gregoire, the regional health promotion officer, has been leading the campaign by travelling to schools across the area. During her presentations Gregoire uses a cream and blue light to reveal bacteria that remain on hands after normal hand washing.

Most people are very surprised to see all the bacteria, she said.

"They don't realize how badly they wash their hands," said Gregoire.

Proper hand washing includes using enough soap to make a lather and rubbing your hands together for between 20 to 30 seconds, she said. Every part of the hand should be rubbed including between the fingers, the wrist and fingertips. People should dry their hands well with paper towel and use that paper to turn off the faucet and open the bathroom door before they leave, she said.

The quick hand washing routine that most people follow isn't effective enough, she said.

"Better be safe than sick," said Gregoire.

There have been 40 cases of CA-MRSA so far this year. That is compared to fewer than 10 cases a year over the past six years, said Dr. Andre Corriveau, the Northwest Territories chief medical health officer.

The bacteria can cause boils and abscesses and lead to the infection of bones and blood. It is one type of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are also known as "superbugs."

Superbugs are not a new issue, said Corriveau, but previously they were usually contracted in hospitals. Strains have started to spread in communities and about half of this year's infections began outside of hospitals, he said.

"We don't want to alarm the public but we do want to say it's around," said Corriveau.

Superbugs are passed by direct contact between people and can occur even in the smallest communities.

"There's no area that can be completely free of it," he said.

Overuse of antibiotics is one cause of superbugs and is being addressed by better education of healthcare providers, said Corriveau. Members of the public can also help stop the bacteria from spreading.

"There's lots you can do to protect yourself," said Wanda White, the chair of the NWT Infection Control Committee.

Posters are being distributed around the North, mainly in daycares, schools, health centres and workout facilities, with tips on ways to stay healthy.

Good hygiene, including hand washing and covering cuts with clean bandages are among the tips. Residents are also reminded to wipe surfaces with disinfectants like diluted bleach and regularly clean toys in daycares and schools.

If a person has a boil or abscess that doesn't heal within a week or spreads they should see a doctor or a nurse, said White.