INFECTIONS
November 10, 2007

What You Can Do to Prevent MRSA and Other Staph Infections

Recent news reports have made us all aware of the danger of drug-resistant staph infections, specifically, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA (pronounced "mer-suh"). Students in several states have been hospitalized with MRSA infections when this opportunistic bacteria entered their bloodstreams through small cuts. Two died after the infection rapidly spread to their internal organs and heart muscle.

MRSA is a "community-acquired" infection and as such is often referred to as CA-MRSA. Hospitals and nursing homes have the highest number of MRSA infections, and MRSA is the source of 10 percent to 20 percent of hospital infections.

Small cuts can provide a point of entry for the staphylococcus aureus bacterium that can then go on to attack internal organs. When infection occurs in the bodies of people with weakened immune systems, severe infections and even death can result.

A study published in the October 17th issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, puts the number of MRSA deaths in 2005 at almost 19,000, making it the cause of more deaths than HIV-AIDs, emphysema, or homicide. The overuse and misuse of antibiotics and casual use of antibacterial cleansers have contributed to the rise of drug resistant strains like MRSA.

Bacteria — beneficial as well as dangerous varieties — are everywhere and are easily spread in places where people congregate. Many people carry dangerous forms of bacteria, but because their immune systems are successful in fending off these germs, they have no symptoms. However, they may spread bacteria — to phones, doorknobs, elevator buttons, grocery store items, and exercise machines.

MRSA is spread primarily by skin-to-skin contact in crowded places and places like health clubs and gym locker-rooms. In the case of MRSA, small cuts can provide a point of entry for the staphylococcus aureus bacterium that can then go on to attack internal organs. When infection occurs in the bodies of people with weakened immune systems, severe infections and even death can result.

Here are some things you can do to reduce your risk:

  • MRSA often begins with a local infection, a pus-filled pimple or blister that doesn't heal. Do not squeeze or try to drain this sort of sore; go have it tested for a staph infection. Squeezing it can spread the infection to other parts of the body.
  • Have a doctor examine any sore that doesn't heal and worsens or remains inflamed and infected.
  • Bathe regularly; wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after being in public places like buses and subways, restrooms and locker rooms.
  • Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you can't wash your hands. Do not use antibacterial soap or hand cleansers. These contribute to drug resistance.
  • Clean, then cover cuts and scrapes until they are healed.
  • Don't share personal items like cell phones, toothbrushes, razors, combs, towels and makeup.
  • Don't touch other people's wounds or bandagesl wash your hands immediately afterward if you do.
  • Take antibiotics only when absolutely neccessary and always finish taking the full prescription. Drug resistant strains like MRSA evolve because of misuse of antibiotics, something which also leaves your body more vulnerable to resistant bacteria.
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