When he discovered penicillin in 1928, Alexander Fleming knew he had found something revolutionary. By the late 1940’s, penicillin and other similar antibiotics were being used to treat virtually all infections, including those caused by Staphylococcus aureus. Penicillin was hailed as a miracle drug, and its increased use led to a steady decline in deaths from infectious diseases
However, there was a darker side to the story. Doctors began to prescribe the drug when it wasn’t necessary. People took penicillin for viral infections, thinking it was a cure-all. Overuse and misuse were rampant. In the 1950’s, an increasing number of staph infections were caused by bacteria that had gained resistance to penicillin. To combat this problem, an antibiotic by the name of methicillin was introduced to replace penicillin in the treatment of staph infections. But just two years later, British scientists identified strains of S. aureus that were resistant to methicillin. This was the beginning of MRSA.
When it was first discovered, MRSA was thought to only infect patients with weakened immune systems, especially those who had recently been in a hospital. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case; as time went on, doctors saw more and more MRSA infections in otherwise healthy individuals. Those affected hadn’t been hospitalized or had a major surgery within the last year. What the physicians were describing was a new type of MRSA called community-acquired MRSA, or CA-MRSA.
Today, most staph infections that doctors see are caused my MRSA. The unfortunate reality is that MRSA is unavoidable now. One of the main causes of this is a lack of new medicines. Between 1998 and 2015, only 11 new antibiotics were approved by the FDA. At that rate, MRSA will outpace us and there will be nothing we can do.
Perhaps most alarming is that MRSA is already adapting to our best antibiotics. In 1997, Japanese researchers identified a strain of S. aureus that was resistant to vancomycin. Known as VRSA, this bacterium is resistant to all glycopeptide antibiotics. If this bug was to become commonplace, the global community would have little power to stop it. In addition, a recent report by the World Health Organization concluded that as of now, only 34 countries are equipped to handle the threat of antibiotic resistance.
Despite all of this, there’s reason to be optimistic. Through increased public awareness, government tracking, and research, the incidence of aggressive and life-threatening MRSA infections has begun to fall in some areas. Even within the US, precautions within hospitals have resulted in a decline in hospital-associated MRSA cases. Moreover, the CDC estimates that creating a vaccine for MRSA would prevent about 50,000 invasive infections per year.
Stopping MRSA starts with you. In this case, the best offense is a good defense. Countless studies have shown that a few simple measures can keep MRSA at bay. Here are a few things you can start doing right away to reduce your risk of infection.
Q: What are the signs and symptoms of MRSA?
A: MRSA most often presents as a skin infection, causing the formation of many small and raised bumps which will eventually fill with pus. This can be accompanied by fever, fatigue, chills, and a generally poor feeling (malaise). More serious infections can cause pneumonia, shortness of breath, endocarditis, and sepsis.
Q: What are beta-lactam antibiotics?
A: The term beta-lactam simply refers to a group of related antibiotics that all have a β-lactam ring within their molecular structure. This ring acts as the core structure for many antibiotics.
Q: What is the prognosis like for MRSA?
A: In general, the prognosis for MRSA patients in positive. If one seeks treatment quickly enough, they will more than likely be perfectly fine. However, if the infection progresses to sepsis, the mortality rate jumps to a staggering 40%. That being said, it is vital that you seek out treatment if you think you might have MRSA.
Q: What treatment options are available for MRSA patients?
A: A glycopeptide antibiotic known as Vancomycin is most commonly used. However, new antibiotics like linezolid, teicoplanin, and daptomycin are becoming more common in the treatment of MRSA.
Q: What are some risk factors for MRSA?
A: There are quite a few, including: participation in contact sports, having a chronic illness, being a senior citizen or young child, living in crowded conditions, being a diabetic, using IV drugs, and recent hospitalization and major surgery.
Q: What is the difference between CA and HA-MRSA?
A: CA, or community-acquired MRSA, is much less severe in its symptoms. However, its ability to spread throughout the common population mean it's still no joke. HA-MRSA is contracted by patients who have been in a hospital for an extended period of time.
Q: How is MRSA usually spread?
A: Like normal staph infections, MRSA is most commonly spread through direct, skin-to-skin contact with someone carrying the bacteria.
Q: Is there a test for MRSA?
A: Fortunately, yes. Doctors can take tissue samples or culture nasal secretions in order to check for the presence of MRSA. New molecular tests are also being developed that can return results in a few hours.
Q: How did MRSA acquire its resistance in the first place?
A: It is thought that MRSA became resistant through the acquisition of a gene known as the mecA gene. This additional gene encodes an entirely new penicillin-binding protein that beta-lactam antibiotics are unable to bind to, rendering them ineffective.