Skin Infections On The Rise
Staph infection may cause lesions - Common bacteria becoming resistant
By RYAN LaFONTAINE
HANCOCK COUNTY - It's far too soon to know for sure, but some doctors and researchers believe a superbug - possibly mixed with something else - is causing skin lesions and sores to pop up on Katrina-relief volunteers and some locals.
Harris Evans, who practices internal medicine in Long Beach, said the lesions could be signs of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, a type of staph infection that has become increasingly common in South Mississippi.
The common bacterium that causes staph infections usually lives on the skin or in the nose and it gets into the body through a cut or medical incision.
Evans said the reason more volunteers could be complaining about the infections is because of the type of relief work they are doing - building and repairing houses and removing debris - puts them at risk for cuts or scrapes.
"You're not going to prevent it," Evans said. "But, cleanliness is next to godliness and the thing that's saved more lives than anything else is a bath."
There are two main strains of MRSA, both of which have become resistant to conventional antibiotics. They usually require hospitalization and can be treated only with extremely powerful medications. Experts say eventually those medications are going to lose their punch, too.
Mohamed Elasri, assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi, leads a research team that recently identified a previously unknown gene that can be manipulated in a way to trick staph cells into thinking the time is not right to release toxins.
Evans and Elasri agreed that treating all staph infections as MRSA - by giving patients the powerful drugs - from the beginning can be an effective way to combat the affliction.
"It's a 50 percent chance, nowadays, that the type of staph a patient has is MRSA and most physicians treat all staph infections as MRSA right from the beginning," Elasri said. "Unfortunately, now that everyone is treated as having MRSA, eventually the staph will develop a resistance to that treatment, too, and it's a vicious cycle."
Staph infections can be as minor as skin lesions or as severe as life-threatening bloodstream disorders; Elasri said each case is different.
"If it's a young man in good health, they're more likely to do OK," he said. "As opposed to someone in his mid-60s; those are the people who bear the brunt of the worst-case scenarios."
Ken Flint, a 63-year-old St. Martin resident, said he's battled the itchy lesions three times since May, and the most recent time, about four weeks ago, was the worst.
The state Department of Health has collected evidence from volunteers working in and around Hancock County and Lovetta Brown, the state's epidemiologist, is working with the Centers for Disease Control to determine the culprit.
If you want to know more about keeping the camps clean and yourself clean while volunteering, please read the following:
Video of skin infection
I've been hearing increasing reports of skin infections. It doesn't appear to be the true flesh eating bacteria, but rather, a very resistant form of staph.
These staph infections are known in the biz as MRSA - Methcillin Resistant Staphaloccocus Aureus. Not that I spelled any of that right, but you get the idea.
MRSA loves to live in dirt and appears to prefer men - mainly because men don't wash as well as women.
Canada has done an incredible job of dealing with MRSA, while the US is lagging behind in a woeful manner - particularly when you consider the cost of treating it and the lingering affects.
I would like to think the CDC is investigating this, but I have yet to see anything come out on the MMWR or the emerging infectious diseases reports.
Here's a quote from the CDC: "MRSA infections that are acquired by persons who have not been recently (within the past year) hospitalized or had a medical procedure (such as dialysis, surgery, catheters) are know as CA-MRSA infections. Staph or MRSA infections in the community are usually manifested as skin infections, such as pimples and boils, and occur in otherwise healthy people."
Also from the CDC:
How can I prevent staph or MRSA skin infections?
Practice good hygiene:
Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed.
Avoid contact with other people’s wounds or bandages.
Avoid sharing personal items such as towels or razors.
I have most of this covered in a post about avoiding infectious diseases:
Another article - excerpts from the CDC - very dry, but very informative, on personal protective equipment that will help you avoid infection as well:
So, basically, you have to be VERY careful. With an already strained health care system, and with an environment completely out of balance, you need to protect yourself every way possible.