|By Ann Coppola, News Reporter|
Last year, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) replaced SARS and the avian flu as the headline-grabbing superbug, but not without good reason; a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that in 2005, there were 32 cases per 100,000 people in the U.S. Even though most people had never even heard of MRSA, a type of bacteria resistant to certain antibiotics like methicillin, oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin, correctional facilities have been battling Staph infections for years. They are endemic and expected; when you confine a population that is typically in poor health, it’s nearly impossible to stop the bugs from coming.
In the battle against MRSA and other members of the microscopic mafia, there are three other letters making people sit up and take notice. SDC, or silver dihydrogen citrate, is a new molecule being used in hard surface disinfectants, and it is the technology that contributed to what could be called the feel-good MRSA story of 2007. It all began with an unconventional move by the Tulsa County Jail in Oklahoma - it admitted it needed help.
“It’s difficult to get people to step up and say, ‘Yes, we have a problem,’” says Michael Krall, the CEO of PURE Bioscience , which created the patented SDC molecule. “When it comes to something like MRSA, you can never get a hospital or clinic to say that. Ever.”
Like most jails, Tulsa, which holds more than 1,500 inmates, had faced a stubborn Staph and MRSA problem. In fact, the jail was treating an average of twelve Staph cases per month.
“I think twelve a month appears to be on the lower side,” Krall says. “In confined environments, like hospitals, jails, and prisons, with the rotating in and out of a new population, you just can’t stop it from coming in.”
That’s a fact that Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz is all too familiar with.
“Of course, new inmates entering the system can expose our facility to infection, but after 14 months of using the SDC-based disinfectant, we are still completely containing the spread of infections in our facility, including Staph and MRSA,” says an appreciative Glanz.
As word of the jail’s MRSA success story spread, corrections practitioners elsewhere began to wonder what it was about SDC that was making such a dramatic difference.
“Basically this product is a broad spectrum antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral disinfectant,” explains PURE senior microbiologist Dolana Blount. “It works to kill organisms internally and externally. The bacterium sees the SDC-molecule as a food source. It readily takes in the molecule and once inside, the silver binds to and destroys the bacterial cell. It’s like a Trojan horse.”
There’s a long list of organisms including Staphylococcus, Pseudomonas, and Salmonella that the SDC-based disinfectant will completely eliminate in 30 seconds. More hardy bugs like Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE) and MRSA are killed in two minutes.
“When you’re attacking an organism with a traditional disinfectant, it requires complete saturation,” Krall says, “you have to really envelop that organism. In our case the organism is actually attracted to the product. That’s the significant difference.”
Something else that might perk up jail administrators’ ears is what Krall calls the “residual kill.”
“In addition to these very quick and thorough kills of these organisms, we have a 24-hour residual kill,” Krall explains. “So you can apply it to a hard surface, come back 24 hours later, attempt to grow a culture of Staph or Pseudomona, and it will kill those in two minutes. There is not another product out there with a claim like. That really explains why we’re so effective in these closed populations.”
There are even safety benefits that have nothing to do with killing bacteria.
“It also not flammable and you can actually use it to extinguish the flames from the fires started by other products,” Krall says. “There’s concern not just with using disinfectants around prisoners. Just being around flames in the kitchen, you’re concerned with other products. There is no alcohol at all in this product.”
The zero-alcohol content is a big departure from traditional disinfectants, since it is normally a major component in the anti-bacterial world. In fact, there have been several reports of inmates getting drunk from drinking the hand sanitizer Purell, which is 62 percent ethyl alcohol. That won’t be an issue with SDC.
“They’ll only get healthy drinking our product,” Krall laughs.
Even though the SDC-based disinfectant can be used in a number of places, it is especially well suited for the jail setting.
“What makes it so effective for jails is they can use it where they couldn’t use other products, because in addition to being nontoxic, it is safe to use around inmates,” Krall says. “You do not have to have a displacement of the population. You can spray it again and again in and around the inmates.”
“We appreciate the many benefits of the non-toxic SDC-based disinfectant: it does not contain alcohol, it is non-flammable, and it does not require rinsing or the use of gloves or masks during application,” adds Glanz. “Using it protects our employees and saves our organization money by controlling the overall incidence of illness in our facility. In addition, and most importantly, the 24-hour residual protection of PURE’s disinfectant offers added protection between applications.”
The jail regularly uses the disinfectant on booking areas, bathrooms, counter tops, cells and mattresses. Even though the SDC molecule is shining on the corrections stage, the opportunities for future uses seem endless.
“It’s a technology that really has some legs,” Krall says. “There literally could be thousands of applications. It’s not only used as a disinfectant for germs and bugs, but it’s a technology that also will be used to preserve food and as a water purifier in the next wave.”
Soon you might notice “SDC” in the ingredients in your air freshener or kitchen table cleaner. What new and alarming superbug abbreviations we’ll see in the headlines of 2008, is still up in the air.
TIME magazine examines MRSA in 2007
Get the facts on MRSA