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MRSA: An evolving “super-bug” epidemic

MRSA stands for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and is a bacterial infection that is highly resistant to some antibiotics. In short, antibiotics have been used since the 40's to stop the growth of bacteria. However, the more antibiotics are used, the quicker the bacteria become resistant to it while each year more types of bacteria adapt and become resistant to antibiotics. With MRSA being so resistant to many of the antibiotics, classifying it as a “super-bug”, it makes treatment of skin infections and invasive internal infections much more complicated. This leads to many yearly deaths. In fact, MRSA statistics show that more people die each year from MRSA infections than the AIDS virus.

MRSA is a strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, which is also known as the staph infection. It is also medically known as S. aureus and is a common type of bacteria that normally live on the skin and sometimes in the nasal passages of healthy people. This S. aureus strain does not respond to some of the antibiotics used to treat staph infections. The bacteria can cause infection when they enter the body through a cut, sore, catheter, or breathing tube or simply when it comes into contact with the skin. The infection can be as minor as a cut or pimple or it can be more serious when it involves the heart or lungs. However, serious staph infections are more common in people with weak immune systems such as the elderly or those who are already sick and hospitalized.

MRSA infections are grouped into two types based on their causative factors. In Healthcare-associated MRSA (HA-MRSA) infections, people who are or have recently been in a hospital or health-care facility are affected. A large percentage of hospital-acquired staph infections are related to MRSA bacteria. On the other hand, Community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) infections occur in people who have not recently been in the hospital within the past year. This type of infection has occurred among athletes who share equipment or personal items and children in daycare facilities. Members of the military and those who get tattoos are also at risk. A friend of mine acquired MRSA from a hot tub at a hotel resort while on vacation. This is also why it is important to cover toilet seats while using a public restroom or clean the gym equipment before and after you use it.

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MRSA has become a growing concern. Research indicates that this violent bacteria is evolving rapidly and cases even outside healthcare facilities are increasing. As many as 1.2 million U.S. hospital patients are infected with MRSA each year, which is almost 10 times more than previously estimated. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in the year 2005, MRSA was responsible for an estimated 94,000 invasive life-threatening infections and close to 19,000 deaths. In the US alone, there were an estimated12 million doctor or hospital visits for skin and soft tissue infections suspected to be caused by staph aureus in the year 2003. The most recent statistics show that 20% of bloodstream infections in hospitals are now caused by MRSA. The common cause for this growing disease is that hospital staff who do not follow proper sanitary procedures transfer the bacteria from patient to patient. Some hospitals screen for MRSA and isolate such patients, but most US hospitals do not yet do this. On the other hand, statistics show that as hospital related MRSA is declining to due to improved precautions, community related MRSA is on the rise.

Until recently, hospitals were the most likely place that people would get MRSA, but now the biggest MRSA health risk is related to community acquired MRSA. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, CA-MRSA has become the most frequent cause of skin and soft tissue infections in the United States. The CDC reports that in 2007, 14% of...
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