Health Column: Irksome infection calls for precautions

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus: you’ve heard of it. More commonly known as MRSA, it’s one of the better-known bacteria around, according to experts at Stony Brook University Medical Center.

A recent outbreak at Rocky Point High School demonstrates why. 

Five students, most of them members of the same sports team, have been diagnosed with infections from the bacteria, according to a message posted on the district’s website last Wednesday.

A type of staphylococcus bacteria, MRSA is a staph infection that differs from others — most notably because it’s resistant to a particular group of antibiotics, said Dr. Saul Hymes, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

That means a patient’s treatment options are limited, since not all antibiotics can kill the bacteria. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MRSA is one of 14 known strains of drug-resistant bacteria.

Despite this, Dr. Hymes said, people should know that “it is not inherently more dangerous or more aggressive than any other staph infection” and that there are antibiotics that can help. The trick is knowing what to look for and quickly seeking treatment.

MRSA generally starts with small red skin bumps resembling pimples, boils or even spider bites, along with redness, warmth, swelling, pus, and pain at the site, according to the CDC.

It spreads through direct contact with an infected wound or its discharge and by sharing personal items, such as towels or razors, that have touched infected skin, Dr. Hymes said.

Your best line of defense, he said, is washing your hands often, keeping personal items personal and showering after all athletic practices or events.

If you suspect you have MRSA, cover the wound with a bandage and visit your doctor’s office, Dr. Hymes said. He noted that treatment usually involves antibiotics and occasionally draining the infected area.

“Just because someone has MRSA does not mean they need to isolate themselves, but precautions should be taken,” he said.

Researchers are working to find new and effective antibiotic treatments to kill superbugs like MRSA, but they are not being created as quickly as they were in the past, according to the CDC, which began studying these types of bacteria more seriously in 2013.

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