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Avoid The Superbug Part 1

Feb 14, 2008
MRSA, or the Superbug as it is now gleefully reported, is the latest and most fashionable way to die. Read The Daily Mail and it will tell you that the filthy state of modern hospitals means huge monster like bacteria are sitting under every bed, chewing on the rubbish and itching to leap out and strike.

But just how dangerous is MRSA? According to the Office for National Statistics 1,629 people died as a result of contracting it in 2005. It is clearly a concern then, but probably not to the extent that certain newspapers suggest. As the Office was quick to point out, this increase is not simply the result of hospitals getting dirtier. Instead, it felt the main reason for the sudden apparent upturn was: "improved levels of reporting, possibly brought about by the continued high public profile of the disease."

But dismissing a pretty nasty illness as merely the product of media hysteria misses the point. When 1,600 people die of something then obviously action needs to be taken. But until the Mail wins its campaign and puts a matron with a truncheon on every hospital corridor, there are steps you can take yourself. Here is a quick and cheery guide to a quick and fairly uncheery disease.

What is MRSA?

MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (SA). SA is a bacterium (one of the nasty bugs you see on the bleach adverts) and the fact that it is methicillin-resistant means it cannot be treated with antibiotics such as penicillin. Most SA infections can be treated in this way meaning they are not particularly dangerous. MRSA's resistance means it is more difficult to overcome, although some antibiotics are still effective.

How infectious is MRSA?

MRSA is not any more infectious than any other type of SA bacteria. What makes MRSA infections more difficult to treat is the antibiotic-resistance of the bacteria. Antibiotics can still be effective against MRSA, but higher doses over longer periods, or the use of antibiotics to which the bacteria is not resistant may be necessary.

How is MRSA carried?

Roughly one in three of us carries SA our skin or in our nose without developing an infection. The problems start when SA bacteria get into the body cut or other break in the skin. Here they can cause infections such as boils, abscesses, or impetigo, and if they get into the bloodstream even more serious infections can result.

What skin infections does MRSA cause?

Most MRSA infections are skin infections. Common symptoms include boils (pus-filled infections of hair follicles), abscesses (pockets of pus under the skin), styes (infections of the eyelid glands), cellulitis (infection of the fatty tissues under the skin), and impetigo (pus-filled blisters on the skin). The NHS advise keeping an eye on minor skin problems like spots, cuts or burns, and seeing your doctor if a wound becomes infected.

What infections can SA cause if it enters the bloodstream?

If SA enters the bloodstream it can cause more serious problems, although these are rarer. These can include septicemia, joint problems, inflammation of bone marrow and infections of the heart and lungs.
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