"Superbug" CA-MRSA

Staph infections, including the serious CA-MRSA strain - a superbug - have been spreading through schools nationwide in recent weeks, from Maine to Florida, according to health officials. The current Journal of the American Medical Association estimated that 94,000 cases of MRSA infections (invasive) a year were contracted in the United States in 2005.

Definition

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (staph) is a type of bacteria that is resistant to certain antibiotics. These antibiotics include methicillin, oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin.

  • Staph are common bacteria that normally live on the skin. The bacteria also live harmlessly in the nasal passages of roughly 30 percent of the U.S. population. If you have staph on your skin or in your nose, but aren't sick, you are said to be "colonized" but not infected. Healthy people can be colonized with MRSA and have no ill effects, but they can pass the germ to others.
  • Most staph infections occur in people with weakened immune systems, usually patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities. This MRSA infection is known as healthcare-associated MRSA (HA-MRSA). Community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) occur in otherwise healthy people who have no history of hospitalizations in the last year.
  • Infection routes for staph and all forms of MRSA is primarily via hands which have became contaminated through: contact with people who are already infected, touching surfaces that have been contaminated by body fluids carrying bacteria, and touching infected body sites. Crowds and poor hygiene have also been cited as infection routes.

Symptoms

MRSA generally starts as small red bumps that resemble pimples, boils, or spider bites. They can quickly turn into deep, painful abscesses that require surgical draining. Fever and warmth around the infected area are also present.

  • Symptoms of a more serious staph infection may include: rash, shortness of breath, chills, chest pain, fatigue, muscle aches, and headache. The bacteria can get into the bloodstream, bones, joints, muscles, and lungs. Organ failure and death may result from untreated infections.

Risk Factors

  • Young Age. Children may be susceptible because their immune systems aren*t fully developed or they don*t yet have antibodies to common germs.
  • Contact Sports. The bacteria spreads easily through cuts and abrasions and skin-to-skin contact.
  • Sharing towels or athletic equipment. It can spread among athletes sharing razors, uniforms, etc.
  • Living in crowded or unsanitary conditions. MRSA has occurred in military training camps, prisons, public housing, daycare facilities, locker rooms, and schools.
  • Intravenous drug use and tattooing.

Prevention

CA-MRSA can be prevented by diligent hand washing and good hygiene. Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly (between fingers and under nails) with soap and water for at least 15 seconds. Dry with a disposable towel and use another towel to turn off the faucet.

  • Clean and cover cuts/scrapes until healed. Don't touch other people's wounds or bandages.
  • Don't share personal items such as towels, athletic equipment, and razors.
  • If you have a cut/sore, wash towels and bed linens in hot water with added bleach. Wash gym and athletic clothes after each wearing.
  • Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer containing at least 62 percent alcohol for times when you don't have access to soap and water.

Sources

Medical News Today, CDC, Science Daily, BBC News, Infection Control Today, Philadelphia Daily News, NIH, Mayo Clinic, U.S. National Library of Medicine, and Washington and Shady Grove Adventist Hospitals. The Health Tip of the Week is for educational purposes only. For additional information, consult your physician. Please feel free to copy and distribute this health resource.

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