Preventing a Superbug

April 2, 2008 9:40:46 AM PDT
Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus (MRSA) is a common cause of skin infections. It can also cause pneumonia, ear infections and sinusitis. MRSA bacteria are sometimes dubbed "superbugs" because they are highly resistant to common antibiotics like penicillin, making infections difficult to treat effectively. Bacteria are highly adaptive and over time, they naturally develop resistance, protecting them from incoming germs -- and antibiotics -- and making them harder to kill. If MRSA enters the body through the skin, it can cause irritating skin infections, but if it enters the lungs or bloodstream, it can cause serious blood infections, pneumonia, even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 90,000 hospital patients die each year as a result of contracting an infection while being treated for another condition. The estimated annual nationwide cost to treat infected patients is between $3.2 billion and $4.2 billion.

SPORTS ANTIMICROBIAL SYSTEM: The University of South Carolina is applying high-tech, proactive measures to combat the spread of bacterial infections throughout its athletic complex. One is the use of the SportsAide system -- a patented, non-leaching microtechnology that creates a durable, antimicrobial bond on sports surfaces and controls the growth of a wide array of bacteria, mold, fungi and algae. The antimicrobial substance is sprayed onto all surfaces, destroying bacteria on contact.

GENE X-PERT: Scientists at Cepheid have developed a simple new test called the GeneXpert to detect MRSA. The new test received FDA approval in April of last year. The GeneXpert can generate a result in two hours, enabling hospitals to rapidly identify infected carriers of MRSA and take timely control measures. Older tests took up to two days to reveal results. The ultimate goal is to lower the rate of hospital-acquired infections and improve overall patient care. The GeneXpert test simply asks users to place a patient sample in the cartridge and load it into the device. It's like having a complex molecular laboratory in a handheld box that can be used anywhere, any time.

AT HOME PREVENTION: There are several preventive measures that can be taken to stop the spread of MRSA at home. The CDC recommends you:

  • Wash your hands with soap for as long as it takes you to recite the alphabet. When washing hands isn't possible, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Cover all cuts and scrapes with a clean bandage
  • Don't ever touch another person's wounds or bandages
  • Don't share personal items like towels or razors
  • Dry clothes, sheets and towels in a dryer rather than hanging them out to dry