By Alan S. Peterson, MD
Walter L. Aument Family Health Center
Staphylococcus aureus is a type of bacterium. Like other kinds of bacteria, S aureus frequently lives on the skin and in the nose without causing health problems. It becomes a problem when it is a source of infection in the skin, lungs, or blood. These bacteria can be spread from one person to another through casual contact or through sharing contaminated objects. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria are resistant to commonly used antibiotics, the medicines used to treat bacterial infections. Because of this, MRSA infections are more difficult to treat than ordinary S aureus infections. MRSA that is acquired in a hospital is called hospital-associated MRSA (HA-MRSA). MRSA infections are now becoming more common in healthy, nonhospitalized persons. These infections can even occur among young people with cuts or wounds who have close contact with each other, such as members of sports teams. This type of MRSA is called community-acquired MRSA (CA-MRSA).
CAUSES OF MRSA INFECTIONS
The leading causes of antibiotic resistance include:
- Bacteria mutation – bacteria that survive treatment with one antibiotic may develop resistance to the effects of that drug.
- Unnecessary antibiotic use – for decades, antibiotics have been prescribed for colds, flu, bronchitis, and other viral infections that do not require or respond to antibiotics.
- Antibiotics and food – antibiotics are commonly given to cattle, pigs, and chickens. This can increase the chances of resistance to antibiotics in humans. That can increase MRSA infections.
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS FOR HA-MRSA?
- Current or recent hospitalization.
- Residents in long-term care facilities.
- Invasive procedures such as urinary catheters, intra-arterial lines, or central venous lines.
- Recent or long-term antibiotic use.
- Family members or close contacts who are healthcare workers.
- Chronic renal dialysis.
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS FOR CA-MRSA?
- Participation in contact sports.
- Sharing towels or athletic equipment.
- Having a weakened immune system, such as in persons with HIV/AIDS.
- Living in crowded or unsanitary conditions, such as prisons or among those who do not shower or bathe frequently.
TREATMENT AND PREVENTION OF MRSA
Both HA-MRSA and CA-MRSA still respond to certain medications. Doctors usually treat suspected and confirmed infections with Bactrim®. If this does not take care of the situation, frequently Vancomycin is utilized although resistance to these drugs can also occur. Few other drugs are available. Current research is directed toward development of new antibiotics.
To prevent the spread of MRSA:
- Ask hospital staff to wash their hands before touching you.
- Wash your own hands frequently and avoid sharing personal items like razors or towels.
- Follow hospitals’ isolation procedures for gowns, gloves, and masks.
- Wipe down shared equipment at gyms before and after using them.
- Athletes should participate in sports only if any open wounds can be kept covered during participation.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an excellent website at www.cdc.gov/mrsa. The American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Children has an interesting website at www.healthychildren.org.
Dr. Peterson is a doctor of Family and Community Medicine at the Walter L. Aument Family Health Center, 317 S. Chestnut St., Quarryville.