That’s the word out of the CDC and a recent report in JAMA. Not really news, since MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) is known to be problematic in hospitals. What is news, however, is that the resistant strain is also becoming more prevalent in communities, and by recent estimates has outpaced AIDS in terms of annual US death rates. Formidable, though the other side of this is that HIV is practically a chronic condition for many in this country thanks in large part to multi-drug antiviral regimens that keep the disease in check and prolong the lifespan of those diagnosed. Still, MRSA should not be taken lightly.
Is there anything you can do to protect yourself against MRSA? Don’t get admitted to the hospital, for one (by staying healthy – obviously you shouldn’t avoid going to the hospital if you are very sick). Every time nurses/doctors poke and prod you, you’re at risk (catheters, surgeries, etc). If you don’t see your nurse/doctor wash their hands in front of you before performing an exam, ask them if they washed their hands. Most will wash their hands before and after each patient, sometimes out in a hallway or other room where you might not see them, but it doesn’t hurt to ask and make sure – your health is at risk if they don’t, so you have every right to know. Most hospitals and doctor’s offices also have hand-sanitizer pumps all over the place that should be frequently used. Hospitals in Great Britain recently banned the use of neckties in an attempt to control hospital-acquired infections, since ties are rarely washed and thus are known to harbor germs for a long time. If you’re not in the hospital but get a scratch or other wound, you should always wash it carefully to avoid any infection, staph or other.
Hopefully health care works will be more careful in their use of antibiotics – indeed, several drugs are “use-restricted” at hospitals so they may still be used as a last-ditch effort, reserved for only the most drug-resistant bacteria. But if a bacteria is resistant to those drugs, quite frankly there’s not much that can be done, and people die as a result of overwhelming infection. Last but not least, if you are taking a prescription antibiotic you should always finish the entire dose as directed, to avoid breeding your own drug-resistant bugs. Only time will tell whether these measures are enough to limit the dangers of MRSA and other resistant bacteria.