Questions Answered on Resistant Staph
Peter Dale and Cathi Dages
Reprinted from the Barre Montpelier Times Argus, Friday, November 9, 2007
What is Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)?
A virulent bacterial organism, resistant to certain antibiotics, that commonly lives in the nose and on the skin of nearly 20 percent of the population without causing harm. When a bacterium is living in our body but not causing a clinical illness it is called colonization.
Why is MRSA suddenly getting headlines?
- Increasing documentation in the literature that MRSA is far more prevalent than was previously realized.
- For decades MRSA was only seen in hospitals, usually academic medical centers and tertiary care hospitals. In more recent years it started being seen in community-based hospitals and in the community itself, meaning that patients showed up at the hospital or doctor’s office with a MRSA infection acquired in the course of their daily activities.
- Invasive MRSA (MRSA in the blood- stream or other sterile sites) is occurring in otherwise healthy people.
- Regular staph infections have the potential to cause life-threatening infections but MRSA is a more virulent strain that is resistant to certain antibiotics.
How do you get MRSA? How is the infection transferred from person to person?
Skin-to-skin contact (not necessarily intimate contact), crowded conditions or sharing contaminated personal items.
How do you know if you have MRSA?
What are the symptoms? It is primarily a skin infection that can resemble a pimple, boil or a spider bite. If you have a sore that won’t heal, is red or has pus you should see a doctor and have it cultured. You can’t look at someone and know if they have MRSA.
How can I protect my family to ensure no- body gets infected with MRSA?
Be vigilant about hand-washing. Practice good personal hygiene more frequently and better than you might otherwise. Avoid sharing makeup, towels, brushes, razors, cell phones, etc. Become more conscientious about scrapes and cuts, ensuring that they are treated and covered until they heal. If a wound gets infected, see a doctor and have it diagnosed.
Do no-water instant hand antiseptic lotions work?
Yes, if they contain 60 percent alcohol.
Is the problem of MRSA confined to hospitals and other institutional settings?
Although a majority of cases occur in hospital settings, a recent Centers for Disease Control report determined that 14 percent of MRSA infections occur in the community at large. These are known as community- acquired Methicillin Resistant Staph aureus (CA-MRSA).
Can pets get MRSA?
Yes. Talk to your vet to get more information.
Can MRSA infections be a problem among athletes who play on school sports teams?
Yes. Infections can readily spread among people who are prone to cuts and scrapes and are in crowded conditions sharing contaminated personal items.
How long can MRSA survive in the environment?
MRSA can easily be found in the environment and its survival depends on a few things. If the surface is dry and the temperature is warm MRSA may survive for a few hours, but germs generally prefer a moist dark environment like your nose or a wound and can live there much longer. However proper cleaning with a detergent will solve the problem. Use a cleaning product that states on the label that it kills Staph aureus.
Can a person die from MRSA?
Yes. According to a study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association MRSA killed an estimated 19,000 people in 2005.
Is it true that MRSA might be killing more Americans each year than AIDS?
Yes, if mortality estimates are correct, MRSA kills more people than AIDS, emphysema or homicide.
How can I protect patients and my family?
Be passionate about hand hygiene and always practice good infection control techniques.