The doc talks MRSA

Published 11:17 am Tuesday, January 29, 2019

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(This is the second in a series of medical columns by the director of Emergency Services at the Claiborne Medical Center.)

“MERSA”, as it is commonly pronounced, has quickly become one of the biggest scourges of modern medicine. The question is how it got that way and what we can do to protect ourselves. We will try to cover some of the basics herein.

Staph itself is very commonplace. Every person reading this article (and even the one writing it) has a form of staph on their skin. Just in the same way that there are different types of Chevrolets or Fords, there are also multiple types of staph. In this case, we are specifically referring to a type that roughly 20 percent of people routinely carry. Please note that having staph does not equate to having MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus). MRSA tends to be much more aggressive and harder to treat when it presents as an infection.

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MRSA means that this particular bacteria is resistant to an old type of penicillin that is used as a benchmark. That means that no matter how much penicillin is given that it will be ineffective in treating the infection. That does not mean that there are not alternatives. There are a variety of other antibiotics available to treat these infections. However, just as this strain of staph has become resistant to penicillin, it has also become resistant to other antibiotics as well.

While MRSA can cause all sort of infections (including urinary infections and pneumonia), it is most commonly linked to skin infections and abscesses. Early on, many patients worry that a spider bite has caused the pain, redness and swelling that they commonly experience. In truth, almost all of these “spider bites” are actually abscesses that have been allowed to fester a bit too long. The longer they remain untreated, the harder they are to treat. These areas usually start as a small, red, swollen area of skin that gradually spreads. Eventually, the skin becomes hard and can break open and drain spontaneously. A doctor will often cut open the skin and pack it at this stage to help speed recovery.

There are a few strategies that you can employ to protect yourself. First and foremost, frequent use of a good antimicrobial soap can go a long way. MRSA is commonly spread from one place to another by scratching an area of infection followed by contact with uninfected skin. Patients with a history of MRSA often carry the infection chronically in their nostrils. A simple swipe of the nose followed by a scratch of the leg could lead to reinfection.

If you have a history of similar recurrent infections, it might be worthwhile discussing with your doctor. There is a specific prescription antibiotic applied to the nostrils which may help. No topical over-the-counter antibiotic cream will treat MRSA or any other skin infections. They can only prevent an infection; they cannot cure one.

As always, we would recommend addressing any specific healthcare needs with your own physician. Of course, we are always available to assist at Claiborne Medical Center’s Emergency Department. Feel free to come in for the flu or any other medical concerns.