Drug-Resistant Staph Not Only in Hospitals

"The widespread use of antibiotics has likely created an environment where this community-associated strain has spread," Schaffner says.

Dr. Neil Fishman chair of antimicrobial Resistance Working Group of the Infectious Disease Society of America, agrees.

"The initial development of the organism may be related to antibiotic use, but the transmission -- the spread -- of the organism is the way that it has expanded," he says. "We have a big problem with resistance in the United States, not only in hospitals, but also in the community. We have to focus on it as a nation."

Part of this focus may center on restraint. Levy says he is concerned that MRSA fears may lead some to demand high-powered antibiotics from their doctors, a situation that could lead to unnecessary antibiotic use.

Curbing such antibiotic use may be part of the solution to keeping MRSA at bay. And Fishman adds that another important facet of MRSA control is to apply appropriate measures for detection of the bug -- and isolation of infected individuals, if necessary.

But as there is little that can be done about the advanced stages of the disease, public health efforts will likely continue to focus on prevention -- in other words, proper hygiene and sanitation.

"Unfortunately, public health has little to offer other than good hygiene," Schaffner states. "But athletics in high schools, colleges and the pros should encourage good hygiene in the locker room -- frequently washing towels, and not sharing razors."

MRSA infections in locker rooms and gyms may be made even more likely by the fact that these are places where athletes, perhaps suffering from cuts or abrasions, share space and sports equipment. As for Bonds, the student played football with the school team last year, but was not playing this season.

But aside from avoiding places the bacteria may thrive, those in the public can offer themselves some degree of protection through such low-tech means as soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizers.

"We don't want to scare the public, but rather to encourage them to improve their hygiene," Levy says. But he adds that people may do well to stay away from soaps with anti-bacterial additives, noting that these cleansers "may change the microbiology" of these germs.

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