According to the federal government, Americans visit the doctor about 12 million times each year to get checked for suspected staph or MRSA skin infection.

MRSA, which stands for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to commonly used antibiotics. Staphylococcus aureus is a type of bacteria commonly found on the skin or in the nose of healthy people. About 30 percent of people have staph in their noses and are not sick or have any symptoms. We say those people are “colonized” as opposed to infected.

MRSA is found on people’s skin in the community, at school, in hospitals and in their homes. Those disinfectants health clubs want you to spray on the exercise mats after you use them? The sprays are there because of concerns about contracting MRSA and other bacteria through cuts on your skin.

But long before MRSA became headline news, Maine’s hospitals were working hard to prevent all hospital-acquired infections, including MRSA. In fact, Maine’s hospitals voluntarily formed one of the first statewide infection prevention collaboratives in the country. All of Maine’s 39 hospitals work together as partners in the collaborative to share resources, expertise and experiences to improve care by reducing infections. We also invited state agencies that work on quality improvement and infection control to join us, the Maine CDC and the Maine Quality Forum in this important work.

One of the collaborative’s primary goals is to ensure that all Maine hospitals consistently use all the practices that science has shown to be effective in preventing transmission of MRSA and other organisms that cause disease. It’s work we take very seriously — everyone from housekeepers to doctors and nurses works to limit the spread of infection in hospitals.

As MRSA has become more common in our communities, some have suggested that every patient being admitted to a hospital should be tested for MRSA colonization. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, doesn’t recommend that approach to preventing MRSA infection among hospital patients. What the CDC does recommend is that every hospital follow the national guidelines to prevent infections, which include using hospital-specific information and experience to determine which patients are at risk and which bacteria are causing the risk, because the risks can change over time and differ from one community to another.

There is no single silver bullet when it comes to preventing MRSA infection. The Maine Infection Prevention Collaborative understands this and that is why they are so aggressively implementing all of the CDC-recommended combination of strategies that will prevent infection: hand hygiene; using antibiotics the right way and only when necessary; and applying the best infection control practices consistently for everyone, every time. We must focus our work on what the national experts recommend, because it is the most effective way to prevent transmission of not only MRSA, but also other infections that could be spread the same way.

There are a few simple steps we all can take to prevent the spread of MRSA. Please help take care of yourself, your family and people you visit in the hospital by frequently washing your hands. Cover an open sore with a clean, dry bandage. Wipe down shared exercise equipment before and after use and never share towels, uniforms or other personal items that directly touch your body.

We cannot wipe out the MRSA bacteria, but working together, we can prevent MRSA infections. Maine’s hospitals want you to know that we are working hard to keep our environments safe and to educate our communities about preventing infections and staying healthy. Infection control professionals in Maine’s hospitals are visiting schools, civic groups, workplaces and other locations discussing MRSA and prevention strategies. If you or your organization would like to learn more, contact your local community hospital.

Kris Doody, RN, is Chief Executive Officer at Cary Medical Center in Caribou and is chairwoman of the Maine Hospital Association board of directors.