That's No Spider Bite: Antibiotic Resistant Staph Infections Now Very Common

ByABC News
August 16, 2006, 1:20 PM

Aug. 16, 2006 — -- Their stories are numerous -- the people who know, firsthand, how common antibiotic-resistant skin staph infections have become.

Take Jessica Knowles of San Antonio whose entire family -- even her dogs -- have been battling on-again, off-again staph infections for several years.

"I've had it probably four to five times now. It's embarrassing, very embarrassing especially when it starts getting on my face," Knowles said. "It starts out feeling like you got bit by something, and you see a red spot like a pimple. It oozes. It doesn't stop."

Or Brandon Kafka of Seattle, who has battled several severe skin infections, including one that broke out across his face after he'd shaved.

"[It] hurt worse than anything I have ever felt," he said.

Their infections were caused by a bacterium called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. Once confined mostly to hospitals and prisons, MRSA has branched out into the general population. It often infects people without warning, and is commonly mistaken as a spider bite.

A study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine shows just how widespread the bug has become. Researchers took hundreds of skin samples from patients who'd visited 11 emergency rooms in the United States with skin or tissue infections. Laboratory analysis showed that 59 percent of the time the culprit was MRSA, meaning the bug has reached broadly into the general community -- and that's bad news in the fight against antibiotic resistance.

"This underscores the need to avoid overuse of antibiotics in general so as to avoid the development of antibiotic resistance," said Dr. Greg Anderson, at the Mayo Clinic.

The new findings come of no surprise to people who have dealt with a staph infection. It is often a frustrating and ongoing ordeal: Since staph is a notoriously adept and common bacteria, the infection doesn't go away easily. It lives naturally in most people's noses, and for unknown reasons, it can suddenly turn against its host and start infecting the skin.