(Updated September 2008)
The possibliity of IUP students or university staff having an MRSA infection always exists. It does not constitute a public health emergency or crisis. If you have heard of a university member with this type of infection, please read the following information to help answer your questions.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection is caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria—often called “staph.” Decades ago, a strain of staph emerged in hospitals that was resistant to the broad-spectrum antibiotics commonly used to treat it. Dubbed Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, it was one of the first germs to outwit all but the most powerful drugs. MRSA infection can be fatal.
Staph bacteria are normally found on the skin or in the nose of about one-third of the 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 with MRSA. Healthy people can be colonized with MRSA and have no ill effects; however, they can pass the germ to others.
Staph bacteria are generally harmless, unless they enter the body through a cut or other wound, and even then they often cause only minor skin problems in healthy people. But in older adults and people who are ill or have weakened immune systems, ordinary staph infections can cause a serious illness, MRSA.
In the 1990s, a type of MRSA began showing up in the wider community. Today, that form of staph, known as community-associated MRSA, or CA-MRSA, is responsible for many serious skin and soft tissue infections and for a serious form of pneumonia.
Vancomycin is one of the few antibiotics still effective against hospital strains of MRSA infection, although the drug is no longer effective in every case. Several drugs continue to work against CA-MRSA, but CA-MRSA is a rapidly evolving bacterium, and it may be a matter of time before it, too, becomes resistant to most antibiotics.
Staph infections, including MRSA, generally start as small red bumps that resemble pimples, boils, or spider bites. These can quickly turn into deep, painful abscesses that require surgical draining. Sometimes the bacteria remain confined to the skin. But they can also burrow deep into the body, causing potentially life-threatening infections in bones, joints, surgical wounds, the bloodstream, heart valves, and lungs.
Although the survival tactics of bacteria contribute to antibiotic resistance, humans bear most of the responsibility for the problem. Leading causes of antibiotic resistance include the following:
Because hospital and community strains of MRSA generally occur in different settings, the risk factors for the two strains differ.
These are the main risk factors for community-acquired CA-MRSA:
Keep an eye on minor skin problems—pimples, insect bites, cuts, and scrapes—especially in children. If wounds become infected, see your doctor. Ask to have any skin infection tested for MRSA before starting antibiotic therapy. Drugs that treat ordinary staph aren’t effective against MRSA, and their use could lead to serious illness and more resistant bacteria.
Doctors diagnose MRSA by checking a tissue sample or nasal secretions for signs of drug-resistant bacteria. The sample is sent to a lab, where it’s placed in a dish of nutrients that encourage bacterial growth (culture). But because it takes about forty-eight hours for the bacteria to grow, newer tests that can detect staph DNA in a matter of hours are now becoming more widely available.
Both hospital and community associated strains of MRSA still respond to certain medications. In hospitals and care facilities, doctors generally rely on the antibiotic vancomycin to treat resistant germs. CA-MRSA may be treated with vancomycin or other antibiotics that have proven effective against particular strains. Although vancomycin saves lives, it may grow resistant as well; some hospitals are already seeing outbreaks of vancomycin-resistant MRSA. To help reduce that threat, doctors may drain an abscess caused by MRSA rather than treat the infection with drugs.
Protecting yourself from MRSA—which might be just about anywhere—may seem daunting, but these common-sense precautions can help reduce your risk:
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Questions may be directed to the University Health Service.