Mean MRSA are making a retreat

By • Published: October 22nd, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

They might live on your skin and inside your nostrils, totally unnoticed. They’re not causing you harm, but that doesn’t mean they’re friendly: if they get into or under your skin, you could be in big trouble.

What are they? Staphylococcus aureus (staff-ill-oh-KOK-us ore-EE-us), common bacteria better known as staph. Staph can infect bones, blood, joints, organs and skin. Skin infections are often minor and easily treated, but those inside the body can be much worse.

Staph has been big health news in the United States for years because of its growing prevalence and another deadly factor. Many staph infections popping up across the country have been those called MRSA (mersa). The “mer” in MRSA stands for “methicillin (meth-i-cil-lin) -resistant,” meaning many go-to antibiotics won’t stop these bacteria.

Figuring out which ones will kill a particular person’s staph infection requires lab tests. A patient who stops taking antibiotics too soon risks a resurgence of the infection and the chance the bacteria will become resistant to that medicine, too.

But new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association brings a welcome surprise: investigators say MRSA is on the decline.

Department of Defense researchers studied data from D-O-D healthcare facilities dating from 2005 to 2010. They found that rates of infections attributable to MRSA trended downward in that time. It’s good news, but it doesn’t mean staph is going away.

Non-resistant staph are called M-S-S-A, which stands for methicillin-susceptible. They’re easier to fight than their stubborn cousins, but still no joke. The researchers say M-S-S-A infections of the blood are declining, but those occurring in skin and organs are not.

Experts say they aren’t sure why MRSA is declining. But they agree that preventing a staph infection remains simple. Keep wounds covered and, most importantly, wash your hands.