Drug-resistant infections by superbug methicillin-resistant Staph aureus (MRSA) and others, are worrying hospital and health authorities to say the least.
Still, health experts like David Fleming, director and health officer for Public Health Seattle & King County and Jeffrey S. Duchin (chief of the communicable disease epidemiology and immunization section of this department) stress that inaccurate information can lead to unnecessary fear and inappropriate actions.
Staph aureus are common bacteria that live on the skin or in the nose of approximately 30 percent of people. They usually do not cause any symptoms. MRSA are Staph aureus bacteria that are resistant to the drug methicillin and related antibiotics.
Figures give that about 1 percent of the U.S. population carries MRSA on their body without signs of malaise. Both MRSA and non-methicillin-resistant Staph aureus can bring about skin infections such as boils, ulcers and abscesses. They can also cause serious invasive infections mostly in hospitalized patients.
Of late, MRSA has been increasing as a cause of infections, including among people who are generally healthy.
Mostly, MRSA infections are uncomplicated skin infections that can be treated with other available antibiotics. Yet sometimes the infections are severe and even fatal. MRSA is passed from person to person through close skin-to-skin contact, and infections also can occur through contaminated items and surfaces.
Yet Fleming and Duchin stress that there are simple steps which can be taken to reduce the risk of MRSA infections. These are: good hand and personal hygiene, prompt medical care for skin infections, keeping wounds covered, not sharing personal items such as towels and shavers, and avoiding close skin-to-skin contact with people who have wounds.
As MRSA pneumonia can follow influenza, getting vaccinated against the flu is a good idea. Sanitation of surfaces infected by any Staph aureus, including MRSA, is also advised. Extreme disinfection measures in schools and workplaces are generally not necessary, say these health officials.
Antibiotics have always been lifesavers. Yet, increasingly bacteria are becoming resistant to them. This makes infections difficult and at times impossible to treat.
Practically anyone can be at risk from infections caused by resistant bacteria.
They lead to higher health care costs, more expensive drugs and extended hospital stays. The total cost to the U.S. society abuts an astounding figure of $5 billion annually.
Currently, drug resistance shows no signs of slowing. It could be true that effective antibiotics may not be available to treat seriously ill patients in the near future.
Unfortunately, this is compounded with the reluctance by public and private sectors into the research and development of better antibiotics. Major pharmaceutical companies are losing interest in the antibiotics market. This can be because these drugs are not as profitable as drugs that treat other conditions.
According to Fleming and Duchin, there is a need to educate physicians, patients and parents about the appropriate use of antibiotics, emphasize the importance of basic infection control measures, develop safer alternatives to the current use of antibiotics in agriculture and stimulate new antibiotic drug development.
They also suggest that attention is given to the "The Strategies to Address Antimicrobial Resistance Act, HR3697'; a bipartisan bill having the potential to save lives by strengthening the response to increasingly resistant infectious pathogens. According to Fleming and Duchin, this would bolster needed research, improve critical data collection, promote more appropriate use of existing antibiotics and support the leadership needed to direct those efforts.
As they say, drug-resistant infections are everybody's problem.