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Ounces of Prevention

May 01, 2008  |  by Kell Kyrik

You know how to respond to a deadly human threat, but you're much more likely to get sick on the job than you are to be shot.

Gunshot wounds, stabbing injuries, broken limbs, and sprained muscles. All new police (and even seasoned vets) know that these injuries are part of the job.

But there are other, less well-known hazards of police work; conditions that run the gamut from rare to extremely common. And many officers are unaware of these risks.

Awareness is the key to prevention. When you know the danger, you can take precautions.

The following is a quick look at some common and uncommon conditions that can rob a law enforcement officer of a healthy and happy life.


Staphylococcus aureus (commonly referred to as staph) is present in 25 to 30 percent of the population and, for most people, it causes no problems. MRSA, however, is the exception to the rule.

MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is usually spread via skin-to-skin contact (especially when cuts or abrasions are present), but you can also be infected by simply handling contaminated items.

MRSA is more common in certain populations, for example, those who've been hospitalized, those with compromised immune systems, prison inmates, and the inhabitants of high-density homeless encampments.

Since officers routinely come into contact with people who are at risk for MRSA Staph, you need to take special precautions if there is any sign of infection. The first line of defense (which should be carried out before a shift even begins) is to cover any open wounds with bandages that won't come loose during a struggle.

Gloving up is the next precaution to take. If the situation is fast moving and you don't have time to glove up, try to avoid skin-to-skin contact with suspects. And wash your hands thoroughly as soon as possible after physical contact with a suspect. Many officers also use disinfectant wipes on their hands, the steering wheels of their patrol cars, and any equipment that they handle.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 30 percent of Americans are overweight, and officers are no exception. Contemporary police work is, for the most part, a sedentary occupation and, while there are no statistics as to the prevalence of obesity in the ranks, there's no doubt that it's a problem.

Fortunately, there are solutions to this problem, but keeping officers in shape usually requires help from administrators. For example, some departments have constructed gyms that are easily accessible to police officers. Others provide discount rates for officers at local health clubs. Some administrators even reward officers who stay in shape. And others reprimand officers who don't work out.

You may be young and fit today. Just make sure that 10 years from now you aren't a "fat cop."


There are two forms of Diabetes: Type 1, which is usually diagnosed in childhood, and Type 2, which is much more prevalent, especially among adults. In the latter type, the body makes insulin but cannot use it properly, leading to an under production of insulin and an inability to keep blood-sugar levels normal.

Type 2 diabetes is directly linked to inactivity and obesity; those who are overweight and sedentary have a much greater chance of contracting the disease. So, since there are ways to prevent diabetes, the best offense is a good defense. The first thing is to keep the weight off. You are coming out or in the academy, so this shouldn't be a problem for you now. What you have to worry about is weight gain over the course of your career.

The best way to fight diabetes is to stay active. And even a little activity can go a long way. Park a little farther away from the store or the office, spend some more time playing ball with the kids, etc. Whether it's small activities or bigger commitments, like joining a gym, it's important to stay active and maintain a healthy weight.

Even though there are treatments for Type 2 diabetes, including meal planning, medication, and insulin shots, they, along with the disease, can compromise your ability to do your job.

Hep B/HepC/HIV

Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and HIV are all transmitted, to varying degrees, by blood and/or bodily fluids. The most common exposure for officers is a needle stick from some junkie's rig.

The first layer of precaution is to ask about needles before you pat someone down. The second is to wear needle-resistant gloves when possible. If you do get stuck, notify your supervisor immediately and seek medical attention. There are drugs that can lessen your chance of infections.

Less common is blood-to-blood exposure, but it can happen, especially if you go hands-on with a suspect. Any open wounds, even scratches or small wounds, should be covered when you are on the job. Extra precautions must also be taken when blood or bodily fluids are present on a suspect or at a crime scene (even days after the original crime.)

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