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How to Fight Drug-Resistant Staph

Pro Footballers Get MRSA, Wake U.S. to New Menace
WebMD Health News

Oct. 16, 2003 -- If you don't think it's a problem, ask the Miami Dolphins. A virulent new drug-resistant staph bug last month put two of the big guys in the hospital.

They aren't alone. About six of their teammates got nasty skin infections, the Miami Herald reports. Outbreaks have been seen in other athletic teams (including a fencing club), in prisons, and among gay men. They've also appeared among people with no obvious connection to other outbreaks.

It's called CA-MRSA, which stands for community-acquired methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Plain MRSA isn't new. It's been plaguing hospitals for decades. It's resistant to methicillin, an antibiotic frequently used to treat staph infections -- and to the entire class of drugs it represents. Now a new form of the bug is loose in the land.

The good news is that CA-MSRA still can be treated with other antibiotics. The bad news is that it seems to be more virulent and to spread more quickly than the old MRSA -- although that's still under investigation. But the bug certainly is popping up all over the U.S., says CDC epidemiologist Jeff Hageman.

"We've seen it in multiple geographic regions," Hageman tells WebMD. "We are receiving increasing numbers of reports. It's something we hadn't heard about before three or four years ago. It is emerging."

Professional football players are only the latest group to be affected. Between 1997 and 1999, the bug killed four children in Minnesota and North Dakota. Late last year, an outbreak among gay men in California alarmed infectious disease expert Edwin D. Charlebois (pronounced shar-leh-BWAH), PhD, MPH, and colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco.

"It's here and if it's getting more aggressive, that is a concern," Charlebois told WebMD. "This bacteria gets under the skin and starts munching away and basically causes abscesses. They either have to be surgically drained or treated with antibiotics different than those we usually use. It is pretty scary."

How to Keep CA-MRSA at Bay

Even though there's evidence that CA-MRSA carries more toxins than the older form of the bug, it's just as easy to prevent. It spreads among athletes when they share personal items such as bars of soap, towels, razors, or equipment worn close to the skin (such as fencing sensors) contaminated with infected skin. It's also spread by skin-to-skin contact with someone who has an active infection.

Here's the advice on how to keep CA-MRSA away:

  • If you've got an infected wound or pus-filled boil, see your doctor.
  • Carefully follow your doctor's advice on how to care for your wound.
  • Cover skin infections -- especially those that carry pus -- with clean, dry bandages. Pus from skin infections and infected wounds spread staph to other people.
  • If you have a skin infection or infected wound, tell your family and other close contacts to wash their hands often with soap and warm water. Remember to wash properly: Scrub while saying the alphabet, and don't stop until you get all the way to Z.
  • Don't let anyone else share any personal items -- including towels, washcloths, razors, or clothing -- that may have come into contact with your infection. Wash bed linens, towels, and clothing in hot water and laundry detergent. Dry these items in a hot dryer, not on the clothesline.
  • If you have CA-MSRA, tell any doctor who treats you that you have an antibiotic-resistant infection.
  • If your doctor gives you antibiotics for a skin infection, be alert for signs of treatment failure. If you get any new boils, sores, or new infections, call your doctor. If your fever gets worse -- or if you get a new fever -- call your doctor. If your infection doesn't look a little better after three or four days, call your doctor. Remember to take all your medicine as prescribed, even if you seem to be better. The germs you leave alive today are tomorrow's drug-resistant bugs.

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