Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a drug-resistant strain of Staph which has been getting a lot of media attention recently, having caused several serious infections in schools, especially in student athletes.  This search for MRSA in Google News reveals the many stories and heightened concern that this bacterium has been generating.

A few years ago MRSA infections occurred only in hospitals or nursing homes.  It became prevalent in these settings because the wide use of broad spectrum antibiotics selected for resistant strains by killing all other bacteria.  In the last few years, however, MRSA has become very common in the community.  Patients who have never been in healthcare facilities are getting serious MRSA infections.  This became so common that doctors had to change the antibiotics that we were using to treat community-acquired skin infections.  The previous first line antibiotic, cephalexin (Keflex), isn’t effective against MRSA and is now rarely used for skin infections.

This Times article and this fact list by the Centers for Disease Control have very useful summaries of what MRSA infections look like, and how to prevent them.  I encourage you to take a look.

We’re stuck in an escalating arms race with microorganisms in which our ever-improving antimicrobial medicines are being met with ever-increasing bacterial drug resistance.  Prevention seems to be the best strategy: frequent and meticulous hand washing, laundering items like towels that are used by more than one person, and frequently cleaning surfaces that touch bare skin, like shower floors.  Twenty-first century pharmaceuticals have made old-fashioned hygiene more essential than ever.

(Thanks to Rachel G. for sending me a link to the Times article.)