The Great MRSA Epidemic: Is It Time to Worry?

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"It's really a question of simple hygiene," he says. "People should keep their hands clean, keep their bodies clean, and if they notice any skin infection, see their doctor within a couple of days."

Pallin adds that it is also important for people to realize that MRSA can be acquired in the gym and around the home -- not just in hospitals. And he notes that even if a person suspects that he or she is infected with MRSA, such an infection is far from a death sentence.

"The majority of these conditions are skin abscesses or other conditions that are unlikely to be fatal," Pallin says. "These are really rare cases, and they make it into the news because it's alarming and it makes good press."

He estimates that less than 1 percent of the cases of MRSA that show up at emergency rooms are potentially fatal -- though he says the medical community still has an obligation to do whatever is possible to limit the spread of the disease.

"The most important thing the medical community has to do is to develop and maintain hygienic protocols," he notes. "That prevents staff workers at hospitals from transmitting it from one person to another.

"Also, doctors need to be judicious with their prescription of antibiotics. If doctors are using antibiotics when they are not necessary, then you have the chance of having the appearance of resistant types."

Along with these measures, Pallin says, the best prescription is likely a deep breath and a moment of calm.

"We don't want people to think this infection is going to be immediately fatal," he says. "Most doctors are comfortable in dealing with this infection. There is no need for a midnight ambulance ride with you see a red spot on your skin in most cases."

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