Antibiotic resistant bacteria, it's a frightening reality. The thought of a microscopic organism being able to outwit modern medicine is to say the least, unsettling.
You may have heard in the news recently, about several deaths related to just such an organism. MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, is an infection caused by the staphylococcus aureus bacteria, or as it is more commonly known "Staph." Staph bacteria are commonly carried on the skin and in the nose, where they are generally harmless unless they enter the body through a cut or a wound. Even upon entering the body, in the presence of a healthy immune system, staph bacteria may only cause minimal symptoms which resolve on their own. However, in a person who has a compromised immune system, the entrance of staph bacteria that is also methicillin resistant can have deadly consequences.
So how did such a small organism turn into such a big problem? One major contributing factor is the improper use of antibiotics. When your doctor prescribes an antibiotic, he or she will tell you the number of days and the number of times per day the medication should be taken. Let's say he gives you amoxicillin and tells you to take it twice daily for seven days. You take the medication as prescribed for six days. n the sixth day you decide you feel much better and don't need to take the rest of the medication. Your immune system, with the help of the antibiotic, managed to kill the majority of the bacteria that was causing you to feel sick. However, what remains are the stronger, more resilient bacteria that required one more day of antibiotics to eradicate. The stronger bacteria survive and replicate. So, the next time you take that same antibiotic it no longer works.
The doctor prescribes an even stronger antibiotic and again you fail to take the entire medication as prescribed, so now even stronger bacteria survive. This cycle perpetuates itself until you end up with "Super Bugs" like MRSA. In fact, in the late 1990s there was a new type of MRSA that was identified which is becoming more common among children and adults who do not have medical problems.
There are two ways you can harbor MRSA. One, you can have an active infection, meaning that you have symptoms. Two, you can be a carrier. If you are a carrier, you have no symptoms but you still have MRSA bacteria living on your skin or in your nose.
Some ways that you can get MRSA include:
Touching the infected skin of someone who has MRSA
Using the towel or wash cloth of a person who has MRSA
By touching a door knob, or other surface that someone infected with MRSA has touched
Being in crowded places, such as sporting events
So it would seem that to prevent the spread of MRSA we should avoid all other human contact. While that would most likely control its spread it is not a very practical approach. A more sensible approach includes:
Before eating or drinking anything,wash your hands for at least 15 seconds and dry them using clean paper towels or a hand dryer instead of a towel.
Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and dispose of it immediately in the trash.
Avoid rubbing your eyes or touching your mouth unless you've washed your hands first.
Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers in between hand washing
Use a cleaner labeled as a "disinfectant" to clean around the house and in your car. MRSA bacteria can live on surfaces for days, weeks and even months, so clean regularly.
Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered
Take all prescribed medications exactly as directed by your physician
By using a common sense approach, you can reduce the likelihood of you or your family becoming colonized by this insidious "Super Bug." For more information, look at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website at cdc.gov/ ncidod/dhqp/ar_mrsa_ca.html.
Editor's note: Todd Peltola, RN, is quality management coordinator at Baraga County Memorial Hospital.