New twist on old infection

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 1, 2007

Students in schools across the nation getting sick, going to the hospital and dying from a disease causes a stir in the media and the public. Anything that can harm our youth, while presenting a double threat of easy transmission from one person to another raises eyebrows.

So it should come as no surprise that media organizations across the country have latched on to the threat Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) &8212; also know as drug-resistant staph infection and dubbed a &8220;superbug&8221; by news outlets such as CNN and Fox News.

And for good reason, MRSA is a bacterium commonly spread by contact with a surface also contacted by a person carrying the bacteria, and a recently released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said it is responsible for 94,000 serious infections and nearly 19,000 deaths a year in the United States &8212; making MRSA responsible for more deaths than AIDS in the United States.

The bacteria&8217;s incident rate is approximately 32 infections per 100,000 people. A study in 2005 looking at hospital impatient data bases for 2000 and 2001 found, on average, patients infected have three times the length of hospital stay, incurred three times the total cost, and experienced five times the risk of in-hospital death.

The rise of MRSA

Staph infection is nothing new.

Previously, staph infections were largely limited to hospitals and nursing homes and penicillin-related antibodies were used to combat their effects &8212; which directly lead to the new, resistant strain.

MRSA was first discovered in 1961 in the United Kingdom.

There are treatments for those who come in contact with the &8220;super&8221; strain of staph, though health officials worry that overuse could cause the bacteria to build further immunity.

The bacterium is not in itself deadly, though it can lead to death in extreme cases usually involving an already weakened immune system.

Who is at risk

The new treatment-resistant staph is no longer limited to hospitals alone &8212; as there are now hospital-acquired and community&045;acquired designations for the bacteria.

In fact, many hospitals are keeping a handle on the disease, while the community borne stain has increased. Research has shown that only about a quarter of infections involved hospital patients, though more than half were in the healthcare system.

Like the flu, MRSA is spread by touch and bodily fluid transfer, which contain bacterial colonies.

Patients and individuals with weakened immune systems are at greater risk for being susceptible to the bacteria. Proper sanitary conditions in hospitals contribute to lower occurrences in a medical setting.

Prevention

Keeping an area and hands sanitized is the recommended procedure, as MRSA can survive on surfaces and fabrics, including garments. Alcohol has also proven an effective topical sanitizer against MRSA.

For large area sanitation, vaporized sanitizers are recommended because they reach areas that might otherwise be missed during cleaning.

Schools

The most high-profile environments the bacteria have been emerging in recently are schools, which have lead to system shutdowns and multiple students catching the bacteria. As it is relatively new on the education system radar as a high-risk infection, area school systems are scrambling to prevent outbreaks.

Demopolis City Schools Superintendent Wayne Vickers said he received a memo from the state this week about the dangers of the bacteria, which he forwarded to the head nurse of the system, Geraldine Walker.

Linden School System Interim Superintendent Scott Collier said his system, too, is looking at prevention as the key to success.