MRSA Infection Gains Recognition as Pervasive Threat
Methicillin-resistant Staphyloccocus aureus—commonly called MRSA—is a form of a bacterial staph infection that is resistant to antibiotics and can be found in humans, animals and in our environment. More Americans die every year from MRSA than from HIV/Aids and H1N1. Approximately 2 to 10 percent of the U.S. population is now colonized with MRSA, which can cause serious infections such as surgical site wound infections, bloodstream infections and pneumonia. Anyone can become infected with MRSA, yet information is not readily available about this infection.
MRSA was first observed in 1960 by Microbiologist Patricia Jevons in the UK and is at epidemic levels in the U.S. due to the overuse of antibiotics in humans and in animals (70 to 80 percent of antibiotics used in this country are given to animals for growth purposes). Critics say that cases numbers have also increased due to the lapses of infection control in U.S. healthcare facilities.
The disease generally takes two forms in the body—colonized or infected. Colonized with MRSA means the bacterium is present on the body—usually nares (nose) or skin—without causing an infection. Approximately 2 to 7 percent are colonized with MRSA and are asymptomatic, meaning there is no infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control, five hospitals are actively screening universally in the Chicago area, and they continue to see colonization levels of 7 percent.
Infected with MRSA means there are symptoms such as redness, pimple-like bumps, pus, drainage, burning sensation, rash or lesions on the skin or in a wound. See a healthcare provider if skin outbreaks do not go away immediately, and ask for breakout cultures to be made. More than 50 percent of all skin infections in the U.S. are MRSA.
There are three different ways of contracting MRSA:
Healthcare-acquired (HA-MRSA) is contracted in healthcare facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes and outpatient clinics. Eighty-five percent of all MRSA infections are HA-MRSA. It is estimated that 2 to 7 percent of the population are carriers of MRSA on their skin and are asymptomatic, but can spread it on surfaces my sneezing and coughing, with droplets landing on surfaces. MRSA is spread by contact. Ninety percent of HA-MRSA infections occur on a surgical site.
Community-acquired (CA-MRSA) can cause infections and illness in people outside of healthcare facilities and presents itself as a pimple, boil, rash, lesion or looks like a spider bite. CA-MRSA can be acquired anywhere in the community, but outbreaks are occurring in fitness centers, schools, daycare centers and correctional facilities.
Livestock-acquired (LA-MRSA) can be acquired from farm animals such as pigs and cows. The strain is ST398 and is also found in northern Europe. The U.S. is seeing many farm workers and veterinarians becoming colonized with this strain of MRSA. Also, household pets such as dogs and cats can be colonized with MRSA and have infections. If there is a skin infection on a pet, take them to the vet immediately for treatment.
MRSA can be prevented with careful attention to preventive measures that are effective for most bacterial and viral infections. Wash hands frequently and thoroughly with warm soap and water (best) or an alcohol-based sanitizer. Keep cuts and scrapes covered and clean until healed. Do not share towels, razors, toothbrushes or other personal items. Cover mouth and nose when sneezing. Change clothes daily and wash in hot water, along with towels and bedding. Shower immediately after a workout or visit to the gym. Try to not touch the face while at the gym or place towels on equipment.
Perhaps more importantly, take precautions before entering a healthcare facility, because the highest percentage of MRSA infections are acquired in hospitals and similar locations. Dr. Lance Peterson, an infectious disease specialist at Evanston Hospital, which performs universal MRSA screening upon admission, says, “If you are colonized with MRSA and having surgery you have a 10- to 12-fold greater chance of acquiring an infection.” At least 10 days before any procedure, ask to be tested via simple nasal swab for MRSA by a doctor. If the test is positive, it is recommended to decolonize with a five-day treatment of over-the-counter antibiotic ointment in the nose, and wash skin with chlorhexidine, a disinfectant, twice before entering the healthcare facility.
Many more natural approaches can also be effective in aiding in both prevention and treatment of MRSA symptoms. For those with a weakened immune system, probiotics can be very helpful in boosting it. Raw garlic has been known for centuries as a natural antibiotic and oil of oregano is an ancient plant thought to help prevent infections, along with turmeric. Manuka honey has been said to help heal wounds from MRSA. Colloidal silver can be applied to wounds and assists in healing. Copper has antimicrobial properties, as well.
Just as the Ebola virus is causing concern around the world, MRSA poses a definite threat to public health in our country. But with the proper awareness, knowledge and prevention, our risk factor is diminished considerably.
Jeanine Thomas, of Willowbrook, was the first patient/consumer advocate in the U.S. to raise the alarm about MRSA after getting infected via routine surgery in a hospital. She founded the nonprofit MRSA Survivors Network in 2003 and initiated and helped to pass groundbreaking MRSA screening and reporting legislation in Illinois. For more information, call 630-325-4354, email [email protected] or visit MRSASurvivors.org.