When MRSA Gets Personal

For patients in a medical facility, hospital-acquired infections can lead to serious complications. MRSA is the leading cause of these hospital-acquired infections. Hospital-acquired MRSA infections may result from germs on medical devices such as IVs, urinary catheters, pacemakers and artificial joints.

A hospital-acquired staph infection may only have subtle signs at first, such as a change in alertness or a low fever. An infectious disease specialist's role "is to assist other health care providers in identifying patients with early hospital infections. If discovered early, serious infections should be treated quickly and aggressively to prevent severe complications or death," Toney noted.

How to Protect Yourself

Outside of the hospital, Staphylococcus aureus infections are easily spread by close personal contact. This may include shaking hands, sharing exercise equipment or participating in close contact sports.

Recent studies have demonstrated sexual transmission of MRSA -- a testament to the germ's versatility. Some people, including those who have recently taken antibiotics, those who have had MRSA in the past and those in close contact with an infected person, are more likely to get the infection.

The simplest way to prevent MRSA is through regular hand washing and use of antiseptic hand gels. Other approaches, such as not sharing personal grooming items and towels, can also decrease the risk to you and your family.

For people admitted to a hospital or health care facility, some of the same precautions apply, but a patient needs to be proactive in other ways to keep safe.

"Ask questions," Dunn said. "Find out what your hospital does to control MRSA infections. Do they have an effective infection control program? Do their surgical site infection rates differ from other similar hospitals in your community? And lastly, if a hospital staff person or physician walks in or out of your room and does not wash his or her hands, don't be afraid to remind them to do so."

After a three-day hospital stay, Mr. Wilson returned home to continue his recovery from his brush with "the superbug." He was much more informed about protecting himself from MRSA -- and perhaps, a little less wary of spiders.

***

Dr. Richard Oehler is assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious disease and international medicine at the University of South Florida College of Medicine.

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