Community superbug a growing menace

A strain of the superbug MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) is causing concern across the U.S. because it is becoming more common in the wider community.

Superbug CA-MRSA (Community Acquired-Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), is a community based drug resistant superbug that causes a deadly staph infection and it is becoming more of a danger to healthy people, especially children, across the U.S.

CA-MRSA appears to be more virulent than the hospital strain and is acquired in the community, by otherwise healthy people who have not (within the last 12 months) been hospitalized or had a medical procedure such as surgery, dialysis or had a catheter inserted; CA-MRSA usually manifests as skin infections such as pimples and boils.

Superbug MRSA is the scourge of hospitals because it is resistant to methicillin and other common antibiotics such as oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin.

It occurs most frequently in hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities (for instance dialysis centres) where patients often have weakened immune systems.

Dr. Jaime Fergie the Director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Driscoll Children's Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, has been closely studying MRSA and CA-MRSA for over 10 years and he says CA-MRSA is much more virulent.

South Texas was one of the first regions in the U.S. to report CA-MRSA and in 2004 Dr. Fergie published a study with a colleague Dr. Kevin Purcell that said infection rate rose from 5 per 10,000 patients in 1999 to 360 per 10,000 in 2004.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the infection routes for staph and all forms of MRSA are primarily via the hands which become contaminated through contact with either people who are already infected or colonized with the bacteria or by touching infected body sites or touching equipment or surfaces that have been contaminated by body fluids carrying the bacteria.

The CDC says skin to skin contact, crowds and poor hygiene have also been cited as infection routes.

Driscoll Children's Hospital say most children infected with CA-MRSA present with skin and soft tissue infection, but some have developed more severe symptoms and a few have died.

In the worse cases the hospital says severely infected children have undergone multiple surgery, including orthopedic, cardiothoracic, and drainage procedures.

CA-MRSA or "community staph" bacteria enter the body through open wounds on the skin, and emerge as a boil or abscess that can look like a bite from a spider; the bacteria can enter into the bloodstream, bones, joints, muscles and lungs.

Dr. Fergie says CA-MRSA can be prevented by "diligent hand washing and good hygiene" and says parents need to know what the symptoms are to make sure their children are diagnosed and treated early.

Outbreaks of CA-MRSA also occur frequently in prisons around the U.S.; the Los Angeles County jail has a high rate of CA-MRSA, and outbreaks have been reported on a regular basis since 2002, totalling some 8,500 cases.

Experts say once they are released, inmates spread the bacteria to the rest of the community.

The CDC says the best way to prevent staph or MRSA skin infections is to practise good hygiene such as thoroughly cleaning the hands by washing with soap and water or an alcohol based sanitizer, cleaning and covering cuts and scrapes until they heal, refrain from touching other's wounds or bandages and not sharing personal items such as towels and razors.

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