MRSA: scary news item is controllable with prevention

To keep MRSA away, keep surfaces clean and wash your hands with an alcohol-based gel. Image: CDC

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (or MRSA, pronounced “mersa”) was once solely a threat to patients in medical facilities. Now, however, it is increasingly also a community-acquired infection. Sometimes dubbed a “superbug,” this bacterium resists a number of antibiotics and, for reasons that are not entirely clear, can become deep-seated in otherwise healthy individuals. Fortunately, the spread of infection can be curbed by some simple techniques.

The impact of MRSA on the population is steadily increasing. A study based on Cook County health center activity documented a four-fold rise in cases over a seven-year period. The current estimated annual case rate for that population is 253 infections per 100,000 individuals. Once a certain number of MRSA infections spreads beyond the original site, the cost of the infection grows in terms of antibiotic cost and recovery time. MRSA is an infection you definitely want to avoid.

A MRSA infection on skin can usually be identified as a blister or cluster of blisters progressing to a boil, or deep bag of infection. Some individuals can later develop pneumonia or other deep-seated complications.

In all outbreaks, new cases were prevented by thorough cleaning of shared surfaces. Though MRSA is a tough bug in terms of antibiotic resistance, the bacterium still needs a medium (so it can lie in wait) and a route of entry.

An estimated 20 percent of people in the United States could harbor this bacterium, typically in the nose, without any outward signs. Where there are shared surfaces and the potential for skin breakdown, the risk of spread to others exists.

Conditions that favor the transmission of MRSA are the five Cs: crowding, contact (skin to skin), compromised skin, contaminated surfaces or items and cleanliness, or rather, lack thereof.

There have been case reports of spread in locker rooms, wrestling mats, gym equipment and even synthetic turf. Hand-washing with an alcohol-based gel is one proven method for limiting the spread of MRSA.

Fermilab’s recreation center furnishes a hospital-grade cleaner for patrons. Instructed to clean equipment after each use, most users choose to clean equipment beforehand as well. More extensive general area cleaning occurs twice a week.

A bit of prevention in keeping broken skin from contacting contaminated surfaces goes a long way in curbing the spread of MRSA.

The CDC offers further information on MRSA.

Dr. Brian Svazas