MRSA makes germophobes look genius

You know those people who don't have kids, but carry wipes anyway? Or those who squeal with delight at the sight of a Purell dispenser? People who fall asleep at night obsessing about the door knob they touched exiting the gas station bathroom?

I have always thought they were completely full of it.

Bill Bryson's book "A Short History of Nearly Everything" made clear to me that the microbes in our world may be tiny as individuals. But taken as a group, they are many times bigger and stronger than us. We live in an environment that is more optimized for them than for us. They allow us to stay at their mercy.

So, you know, spray down your countertops or not ... you're only going to touch a tiny percentage of the microbes around. And on top of all that, it's a myth to think any part of your world will be germ free, and if you keep kicking the friendly harmless ones out of your home, isn't there a chance all that turnover will eventually lead to some nasty ones? Life is too short to get crazy about this kind of stuff.

That was my thinking anyway.

I should point out, here, in case it's not obvious, that I am not a doctor.

However, if there's one thing to make people like me to move squarely into the Clorox camp, to take up arms with those hunting microbes as if they were tiny Bin Ladens, then it is Ric Bucher's story about staph infections. These infections arise from doing entirely normal things, like going to your gym. They manifest themselves in banal ways -- a swollen paper cut, for instance -- who hasn't had that?

And yet they have put more people into the hospital than swine flu and some versions of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can be deadlier than HIV.

It's a perfect recipe for paranoia. I kind of want to go wash my hands just after reading that article (and to wash my eyes after looking at the accompanying photo). I'm suddenly very aware I pretty much never disinfect my keyboard, or my desk. And I wouldn't mind swabbing the noses of people I come into contact with, and sending all that to the lab for assessment.

Like the Celtics do.


Before training camp, there was Shaquille O'Neal, getting a Q-tip up the nose, in the name of making sure he is not bringing staph into the locker room. The Celtics, you see, had an issue a few years ago where Paul Pierce, Delonte West and several others had some little injuries swell up perniciously, and dangerously. Since then, they have been careful. Very careful. Bucher writes:

When other NBA teams heard about the Celtics' outbreak, some instituted new policies. The Spurs, for one, tell arena workers to keep fans from touching players as they run out to the court, and players are reminded to wash their hands thoroughly after autograph sessions and community appearances. But no team is as meticulous as the C's. Everyone in Boston's basketball operations -- from GM to administrative assistant -- is swabbed. Those who test positive receive a staph-killing cream in their nostrils each day for a week. Everyone is instructed to sanitize and cover all wounds and to shower before climbing in a hot or cold tub. Players soak alone and drain the tub afterward. And they are asked to please, please, report any cut, scrape or bite that appears to be getting worse. Posters outlining the grisly effects of MRSA hang in the training room. A player in need of further motivation need look no further than the locker room.

The problems started in training camp when an infected ingrown toenail caused West's foot to swell. Pierce then showed up for a shootaround in New Jersey with the middle finger of his left hand so swollen he couldn't catch the ball. "A doctor cut open my fingernail, flushed out everything and put me on antibiotics," Pierce says.

In February, he was sent home again, this time from Detroit, with a fever and swollen left elbow. It too was lanced and drained, and Pierce spent two days in the hospital. Lacerte says the Celtics had four cases that season. After losing games because of it, they decided to root out the cause.

Team officials had 50 different surfaces at their facility tested for MRSA, then hired a cleaning company to sanitize everything. New pre- and postpractice procedures for keeping it all clean were put in place. Today, the franchise routinely retests and resanitizes surfaces. Boucher says staph can return to the same spot in 60 days. "It may be overkill," Lacerte says. "But we haven't had a problem since."

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to bleach my house.