Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus is not a new phenomenon. However, the number of patients experiencing treatment-resistant organisms is on the rise.
Horror stories in the press of patients dying from hospital-acquired infections risk exploding the concept of treatment-resistant organisms from a niche problem to a generalized fear of hospitalization. While deaths and disabling infections can occur, the fact remains that staphylococcus aureus is a common bacteria that live harmlessly on the skin in the vast majority of cases.
In the last two decades, problems have arisen in high-population, high-risk, and close-contact environments such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes, military barracks, prisons, among livestock workers and the homeless, where open wounds, intravenous equipment, infected animals, and compromised immune systems supply openings for an infection that are not risks among the general public. The respiratory system and urinary tract are further susceptible sites for infection. High patient volumes and increasingly complex medical procedures have contributed to what has been called an epidemic.
In medical environments, MRSA can enter the bloodstream through IV lines or open wounds, causing an infection and preventing healing. This never used to be a problem – when staphylococcus aureus struck, a simple course of antibiotics was previously sufficient to remove the problem. What we have to contend with now is MRSA, or meticillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, which is a specific strain that has developed immunity to most of our arsenal of treatment weaponry. MRSA is so hard to treat because there are a very limited number of antibiotics available to which these bacteria are susceptible.
Given the complexity of treatment issues, the key here is prevention. While professionals in the healthcare industry are accustomed to high-level hygiene practices, the general public must be educated. When visiting hospitals or nursing homes, people should have a shower or bath, including washing their hair and make sure patients have access to plentiful clean underwear and clothes. Sitting on hospital beds should be avoided and of course, hand washing is essential at regular intervals.
MRSA can be spread by physical contact between people, be they patients, staff, or visitors so standards of personal hygiene are equally as important as cleanliness in the environment. Healthcare professionals should make sure they are fully equipped with a full range of infection control equipment, available from industry suppliers while encouraging comprehensive hygiene measures among patients and visitors. Prevention is better than cure, particularly when the bacteria is resistant to treatment.