Prevent MRSA Infections in the Workplace

October 29, 2007

Staphylococcus aureus, often referred to simply as "staph," is a type of bacteria commonly carried on the skin or in the nose of healthy people. Sometimes, staph can cause an infection. Staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infections in the United States. Most of these skin infections are minor (such as pustules and boils) and can be treated without antibiotics. However, staph bacteria also can cause serious infections (such as surgical wound infections, bloodstream infections, and pneumonia).

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) refers to a category of staph that is resistant to a type of antibiotic methicillin. MRSA is often resistant to other antibiotics, as well. While 25%–30% of the population is colonized with staph (meaning that bacteria are present, but not causing an infection with staph), approximately 1% is colonized with MRSA.

Staph infections, including MRSA, occur most frequently among persons in hospitals and healthcare facilities (such as nursing homes and dialysis centers) who have weakened immune systems. These healthcare-associated staph infections include surgical wound infections, urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections, and pneumonia.

Staph and MRSA can also cause illness in persons outside of hospitals and healthcare facilities. MRSA infections that are acquired by persons who have not been recently (within the past year) hospitalized or had a medical procedure (such as dialysis, surgery, catheters) are known as community-associated MRSA infections. Staph or MRSA infections in the community are usually manifested as skin infections, such as pimples and boils, and occur in otherwise healthy people. 

OSHA Issues New Combustible Dust Instruction


"With this National Emphasis Program, we will focus our efforts on the fire and explosion hazards that may exist at facilities where combustible dusts accumulate," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Edwin G. Foulke Jr. "A combustible dust fire and/or explosion is a potential hazard to America's working men and women. This instruction will be a valuable resource for those who inspect industrial facilities in the United States."

Combustible dusts are often either organic or metal dusts that are finely ground into very small particles, fibers, chips, and/or flakes. These dusts can come from metal, wood, plastic, and organic materials such as grain, flour, sugar, paper, soap, and dried blood. Dusts can also come from textile materials. Some of the industries in which combustible dusts are particularly prevalent include agriculture, chemical, textile, forest, and the furniture industry.

The instruction provides detailed information on OSHA's inspection scheduling, resource allocation, inspection resources, and procedures. This information is particularly useful in educating businesses on how to achieve compliance with OSHA requirements in advance of any inspection.

NIEHS Awards Outstanding New Environmental Scientists

Five-year grants totaling $3.5 million will go to seven exceptionally talented and creative investigators in the early stages of their careers, announced by the National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The awards are being made under NIEHS’s Outstanding New Environmental Sciences (ONES) program.

"The ONES program is an important part of our efforts to help establish the careers of creative, talented young scientists and to allow them to apply their talents to the field of environmental health sciences," said Dennis Lang, Ph.D., Interim Director, NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.

The ONES program, in its second year of funding, identifies outstanding scientists who are in the early, formative stages of their careers and who intend to make a long-term career commitment to research in the mission areas of the NIEHS. The program assists them in launching an innovative research program that focuses on problems of environmental exposures and human biology, human pathophysiology, and human disease.

"The grantees selected through this very competitive and rigorous review process epitomize the breadth of the NIEHS research program," said J. Patrick Mastin, Ph.D., chief of the NIEHS Cellular, Organ, and Systems Pathobiology Branch, which coordinates the ONES program. "These scientists are focusing on conditions such as ADHD, early puberty, aging, and lung diseases and determining how these conditions relate to specific environmental exposures. Their research will play a pivotal role in helping to develop new prevention and treatment strategies."

The following is a list of the 2007 ONES program awardees:

  • Brent Carter, M.D., University of Iowa, Iowa City, will study the mechanism that causes lung inflammation and fibrosis after exposure to asbestos.
  • Wenbin Deng, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, will use a combination of cellular and molecular techniques to study the mechanisms that cause lead to be neurotoxic in the developing brain.
  • Cheryl L. Fattman, Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, will conduct studies to help develop new treatments for patients suffering from silicosis, a respiratory disease brought on by inhalation of silica particles, causes chronic inflammation, and scarring in the lungs.
  • Laura J. Niedernhoffer, M.D., Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine, will seek to understand the molecular mechanisms by which DNA damage promotes aging. The researcher will examine some common industrial exposures to determine the impact these chemicals have on the aging process and whether they induce DNA damage.
  • Timothy R. Nurkiewicz, Ph.D., West Virginia University, Morgantown, will study the mechanisms by which air pollutants, such as particulate matter, cause cardiovascular dysfunction.
  • Heather B. Patisaul, Ph.D., North Carolina State University, Raleigh, will study the mechanisms by which common endocrine active compounds, such as bisphenol A and genistein, may impact the endocrine system and potentially advance puberty.
  • Jason R. Richardson, Ph.D., University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Piscataway, will explore the gene-environment interactions that contribute to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The researcher will evaluate pesticide exposure as a potential risk factor for ADHD.

The new ONES awardees will be at NIEHS on Jan. 7, 2008, to meet NIEHS staff and make presentations about their work.


NIEHS, a component of the National Institutes of Health, supports research to understand the effects of the environment on human health. 

The National Institutes of Health (NIH)—The Nation's Medical Research Agency—includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases.

Food Flavoring Workers at Risk for Lung Disease

Workers involved in producing diacetyl, a chemical used in food flavoring, are at increased risk for developing bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome (BOS), new research suggests.

BOS, which has also been called popcorn worker's lung, is a rare, but serious lung disease in which the airways can become blocked with inflammatory tissue.

"Several recent publications indicate a new, potentially severe occupational lung disease in workers exposed to flavorings in North American food-processing industries," Dr. Frits G. B. G. J. van Rooy, of Utrecht University, the Netherlands, and colleagues write in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Careful evaluation of "workers occupationally exposed to inhalable flavoring vapors documented a rare, severe lung disease, consistent with...BOS," the researcher explains. "Within the spectrum of butter flavoring vapors, diacetyl plays a prominent role."

The team examined the risk of BOS in chemical workers producing diacetyl, with exposure to less complex mixtures of chemicals. "The novelty of the present study is that it was conducted in the chemical industry in a European diacetyl production plant," they point out.

van Rooy and colleagues identified 206 workers who had potentially been exposed to diacetyl between 1960 and 2003. Of these individuals, 10 had died. Of the remaining 196 individuals, 175 consented to the study.

Three cases consistent with BOS were identified in the highest exposure group of 102 process operators. Two of these subjects were life-long smokers. Their symptoms had started an average of five years after employment at the diacetyl plant.

Potential exposures included acetoin, diacetyl, acetaldehyde, and acetic acid. Diacetyl exposures were in the range previously reported to be associated with airway blockage in the microwave popcorn industry.

The three subjects had already been diagnosed with emphysema or asthma and had all been treated with standard drugs.

This study "establishes the presence of chemical workers manufacturing a flavoring ingredient with exposures to diacetyl, acetoin, and acetaldehyde," van Rooy and colleagues conclude. "Any or all of these exposures may contribute to the risk of this emerging occupational lung disease."

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