'Super' staph infection is more resistant

'Super' staph infection is more resistant

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by Randy Neves and KGW.com Staff

kgw.com

Posted on November 4, 2010 at 8:49 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 5 at 10:05 AM

PORTLAND, Ore. -- You may remember this from 2007. A super-strain of staph bacteria nicknamed MRSA was causing nasty, sometimes deadly infections in the Portland region.

Today, there's good and bad news in the fight against this evolved strain of staph bacteria. “Mersa” is the pronunciation of the acronym MRSA which stands for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. It's more resistant to antibiotics. Hospitals have made strides in driving down MRSA cases.

But out in the community, infections aren’t going anywhere. And that has become a puzzle for researchers. It used to be that a staph infection was something you caught in a hospital.

But that changed a few years ago when mother nature gave birth to MRSA.

"There's genetic diversity in bacteria and we're in co-evolution with bacteria, said OHSU infectious diseases researcher, Dr. John Townes.

He says you can become a MRSA host simply from playing contact sports or from someone or something at home. MRSA "colonizes" on one out of every hundred people compared to the more conventional strains of staph that are about 30 times more prevalent in people's skin or in their noses, Townes says.

Unless it gets under the skin, all staph are pretty harmless and ubiquitous, he says. "Nobody really understands exactly why people become colonized with a particular strain."

MRSA-related, drug-resistant infections have proved particularly tough to beat back, leading to clusters of cases, causing letters home to local parents, even killing a Vancouver man in 2007.

"Sometimes it can look like a spider bite or maybe starts as a pimple that then turns red and gets larger and larger," said Townes.

MRSA cases have curtailed in hospitals in recent years. Legacy's hospital system, for example, has developed strict, common-sense ways of reducing all infections by 40 percent in two years.

"Hand washing is a huge first step and as silly as that seems it's one of those things that was casually approached in the past that isn't anymore," said Dr. Jack Cioffi, Chief Medical Officer at Legacy Health System.

"Every hospital should be implementing strict hand washing guidelines," he said. The part of MRSA that's still puzzling experts, though, is it's existence outside the hospital setting. In the Tri-County region, non-hospital MRSA cases have gone from 67 in 2007, down to 56 cases in 2008, and jumped back up to 82 cases in 2009.

"We don't know exactly how to control that," said Dr. Townes. He says hygiene is helpful and so is the commitment of doctors not to over-prescribe antibiotics. A lot of the smaller wounds developed from MRSA-related infections just need to be drained by doctors and kept clean and covered at home," he said.

"The population will develop some degree of immunity to the strain but we also are developing new antibiotics." The pace of new antibiotic development is sluggish, Townes said, because pharmaceutical companies are less eager to take on rapidly evolving bacteria.

Perhaps all we can really do is keep our fingers clean and keep them crossed. "I don't think you can avoid coming in contact with microorganisms. You really just can't," said Dr. Townes.

Doctors say if you have a blemish or boil that develops and blisters, and gets red and swollen, don’t be tempted to drain it yourself. Go to the doctor immediately.

They say the key to controlling such infections without the need for antibiotics is to treat them as early as possible. was causing nasty, sometimes deadly infections in the Portland region.

Today, there's good and bad news in the fight against this evolved strain of staph bacteria.

“Mersa” is the pronunciation of the acronym MRSA which stands for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. It's more resistant to antibiotics. Hospitals have made strides in driving down MRSA cases.

But out in the community, infections aren’t going anywhere. And that has become a puzzle for researchers. It used to be that a staph infection was something you caught in a hospital.

But that changed a few years ago when mother nature gave birth to MRSA. "There's genetic diversity in bacteria and we're in co-evolution with bacteria, said OHSU infectious diseases researcher, Dr. John Townes.

He says you can become a MRSA host simply from playing contact sports or from someone or something at home. MRSA "colonizes" on one out of every hundred people compared to the more conventional strains of staph that are about 30 times more prevalent in people's skin or in their noses, Townes says.

Unless it gets under the skin, all staph are pretty harmless and ubiquitous, he says. "Nobody really understands exactly why people become colonized with a particular strain."

MRSA-related, drug-resistant infections have proved particularly tough to beat back, leading to clusters of cases, causing letters home to local parents, even killing a Vancouver man in 2007.

"Sometimes it can look like a spider bite or maybe starts as a pimple that then turns red and gets larger and larger," said Townes. MRSA cases have curtailed in hospitals in recent years.

Legacy's hospital system, for example, has developed strict, common-sense ways of reducing all infections by 40 percent in two years. "Hand washing is a huge first step and as silly as that seems it's one of those things that was casually approached in the past that isn't anymore," said Dr. Jack Cioffi, Chief Medical Officer at Legacy Health System.

"Every hospital should be implementing strict hand washing guidelines," he said. The part of MRSA that's still puzzling experts, though, is it's existence outside the hospital setting.

In the Tri-County region, non-hospital MRSA cases have gone from 67 in 2007, down to 56 cases in 2008, and jumped back up to 82 cases in 2009.

"We don't know exactly how to control that," said Dr. Townes. He says hygiene is helpful and so is the commitment of doctors not to over-prescribe antibiotics. A lot of the smaller wounds developed from MRSA-related infections just need to be drained by doctors and kept clean and covered at home, he said.

"The population will develop some degree of immunity to the strain but we also are developing new antibiotics." The pace of new antibiotic development is sluggish, Townes said, because pharmaceutical companies are less eager to take on rapidly evolving bacteria. Perhaps all we can really do is keep our fingers clean and keep them crossed.

"I don't think you can avoid coming in contact with microorganisms. You really just can't," said Dr. Townes. Doctors say if you have a blemish or boil that develops and blisters, and gets red and swollen, don’t be tempted to drain it yourself. Go to the doctor immediately. They say the key to controlling such infections without the need for antibiotics is to treat them as early as possible.

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