The Communicator
The Communicator
  December 1, 2007 

MRSA: What You Should Know (Part One)

Coming Soon!

Break the Chain (2008)
Your Role in Preventing the Spread of Infection

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Orientation and In-Service Training On:

  • What infections are and how they spread
  • Bloodborne pathogens (HIV/AIDS, HBV, HCV)
  • VRE, MRSA, C-Difficil, Norovirus, Scabies
  • Hand hygiene
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Accident reporting procedures

This package includes:

  • Updated and expanded content for 2007-8
  • Companion Presenter’s Guide
  • Video discussion supplements for frontline workers in senior living, home health, hospice and home care.

If you would like to be notified when Break the Chain (2008) is available, e-mail us at service@caresource.com

You have probably read the recent headlines: “Health Club Closed in MRSA Scare.” “Middle School ‘Superbug’ Outbreak.” “Football Player Hospitalized with Staph Infection.” In October 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a report calling attention to the MRSA strain of bacteria, and news reports appeared of several deaths. Since then, some Americans report feeling a sense of panic. Parents have kept their children home from school. Sports events have been cancelled. Gym members aren’t sure whether their workout is safe.

Is the fear warranted? And what is MRSA, anyway? As with all infectious diseases, equipping yourself with some basic information is the first step to protecting yourself and your loved ones…and to putting your mind at ease by taking concrete steps rather than just worrying. Here are some of the most common questions most people are asking.

What is MRSA?

“MRSA” stands for “methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus.” Translated into plain English, this means it is a variety of staph infection that has become resistant to the common penicillin-type antibiotics that doctors have traditionally prescribed for this type of infection.

Where did MRSA come from?

Researchers believe that the “staph” bacterium has always coexisted with human beings. Bacteria, like all organisms, change over time to adapt to their environment. So when penicillin and similar antibiotics arrived on the scene for fighting infection, certain strains of the staphylococcus bacteria gradually evolved an immunity to those drugs. The resistant forms first appeared in the 1960s in healthcare settings, and are called healthcare-associated MRSA (HA-MRSA). Then, around 1990, a new strain of the bacteria, community-associated MRSA (or CA-MRSA), began to affect even healthy people. It is this last type that has been receiving the most attention recently, though healthcare organizations have been aggressively fighting the healthcare-associated variety since it was first noticed.

Who is at risk for MRSA infection?

People with weakened immune systems are at greatest risk. Though most MRSA infections still take place among patients and sometimes workers in hospitals, nursing homes, dialysis centers or other healthcare settings, the community-associated MRSA strain is also becoming more common, even in healthy people. It is often associated with occupations and activities that include:

  • close skin-to-skin contact
  • skin cuts or abrasions
  • crowded living conditions
  • poor hygiene.

For example, outbreaks have occurred in sports teams, military training camps, daycare centers and in prison populations.

How dangerous is MRSA?

First of all, it is important to realize that a person can have staph bacteria on their skin or in their nose with no symptoms. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one-third of the population carries the bacteria, with about 1% of those being the MRSA type. It is only when the bacteria cause illness that we speak of an “infection.” In otherwise healthy people, MRSA infections are most commonly limited to the skin. However, if the bacteria enter the body (most often through a cut or scrape), the infection can spread to the blood, lungs, bones, joints or heart. Resulting blood poisoning and pneumonia can even be fatal.

What are the symptoms?

MRSA infections most commonly appear on the skin. A sore or series of sores may appear as abscesses or boils. Many people mistake the sore for a “spider bite.” The area may be hot to the touch, red, swollen and painful, often with pus or other drainage.  If the bacteria have entered the bloodstream, symptoms can include shortness of breath, fever, chills, fatigue or muscle ache. If you suspect MRSA infection in yourself or a loved one, contact your healthcare provider right away.

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MRSA Bacteria
A group of MRSA bacteria, magnified 20,000 times. (Photo: CDC)

In the next issue of the Communicator, find out how to avoid contracting MRSA, and how to prevent the bacteria from spreading from an infected person in MRSA: What You Should Know, Part II


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