August 20, 2014 - Eminent Dangers

With all the viral attention in the news, an old concern has emerged once again: MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus) — and Flesh Eating Bacteria.


I am often asked, “Is there any cause for concern? Is my health or family in danger?” Unfortunately, there could be. This requires an explanation.

Ten years ago, if my office were to receive two confirmed positive MRSA cultures from our reference laboratory in the same year, it was considered excessive.

Today, we have five or more positive cultures every day. Why the difference?

In the past many antibiotics covered the bacteria to which we are commonly exposed. In fact, Penicillin (a parent of Methicillin) cured most illnesses that could be treated with antibiotics.

Unfortunately, most bacteria have the ability to adapt, or become resistant to an antibiotic to which they are exposed for an extended period of time.

Those of you who are Star Trek fans remember the race of creatures collectively called The Borg. They were part human, part computer, and were tied into a mainframe processor that had the ability to analyze every foe each individual Borg (person) experienced.

As the Borg are fired upon, the weapons used on them are analyzed by the mainframe computer. It would then determine how to best overcome a particular weapon and pass that resistance along to the Borg population online. After exposure to only several attacks from any weapon, the Borg as a group were immune to it.

Similarly, as antibiotics are used against a particular family of bacteria, the bacteria work to overcome that weapon being used against it. Eventually it collectively develops resistance. Subsequently, all offspring of that bacterium are also immune, and the difficulty in fighting it begins.

We can make this problem worse by exposing bacteria to an antibiotic, but withdrawing it before it completely kills the colony. Every time we stop an antibiotic before it’s course is finished, we are doing just that.

MRSA is a particularly virulent bacterium that grows quickly and has developed resistance to many antibiotics. Fortunately it has had difficulty finding the key to unlocking the secret of Sulfa based medications. But, that being said, strains are beginning to erupt that are showing signs of resistance to Sulfa too.

I need to make a separation between MRSA and Flesh Eating Bacteria. As I have mentioned, MRSA has become common in our society. FEB’s are still quite rare. When one shows up anywhere in the country, you hear about it on CNN.

But MRSA (commonly pronounced mer’-sah) is all around us. It is contagious from one person to another, but can also live on solid surfaces for prolonged periods of time. Studies have shown that it is alive and able to infect us after sitting on a doorknob for 90 days or even longer.

In addition, some of us may be carriers of MRSA. In other words, we don’t have any sores, but we carry it on our skin or in our nose at all times, ready to infect someone else.

So how serious is a MRSA infection? If left untreated, it can be fatal. But, of course, it does not have to be.

If you think you may have an MRSA infection, here are some important things to remember:

  • Do not squeeze or try to “Pop” a sore.
    • Squeezing places pressure on the walls of the abscess. If it does not rupture to the outside, it will rupture to the inside and may spread into the bloodstream. This is why we perform a minor surgical procedure to drain these lesions. It’s nothing to play with, and must be done correctly.
  • Seek medical attention!
    • MRSA is a serious infection that requires aggressive treatment with one of several antibiotics. Seek out a medical provider that understands the proper treatment regimen for MRSA. Surprisingly, many still don’t.
  • Do not buy medications online and treat yourself.
    • As I mentioned, the proper medication choice and dosage is essential. Online recommendations and treatment plans are often harmful, and buying drugs over the Internet is a dangerous proposition. That’s a topic for another time, but suffice it to say, you may not be getting the medicine you think you are. I am not trying to drum up business here—I’m as busy as I can get right now. But it’s important to perform cultures on the bacteria to identify the resistant strains and determine the best treatment regimens.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
    • This infection is spread by direct contact. If you don’t want to catch it or spread it, hand washing is essential. Although hand sanitizers are helpful, they are no substitute for thorough, frequent hand washing with an antibacterial soap.
  • Change dressings carefully.
    • If you are being treated for MRSA and have dressings that require changing, be very cautious. As I mentioned earlier, if you contaminate a solid object such as a doorknob or table with MRSA, it will be able to infect someone else by touching it for at least 90 days.
  • Be overly cautious around food if you have an infection.
    • As with many bacteria, staph contaminated food can cause gastroenteritis with vomiting and diarrhea for days. This can be avoided by keeping hands and surfaces clean. It requires diligence—it’s easy to forget when you’re dealing with something you can’t see.

As we look for newer, more effective antibiotics to fight the rare breed of microscopic vermin, please remember – if you have an infection, don’t treat it yourself. Get help, and get it immediately. MRSA is nothing to play with.

If you have any comments or questions, feel free to type them in the comment section below.