MRSA presents a growing danger

"World MRSA Day” was celebrated this month. What are Onslow Memorial Hospital, Onslow Health Department, Onslow Caring Community Clinic, local doctors and nurses, Onslow schools, Coastal Carolina Community College, as well as local, state, and federal government officials, television and newspapers doing to educate the public about this deadly disease?

I don’t have an answer, do you?

MRSA is an acronym for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. It has been described as “Superbug” because it is resistant to most antibiotics. The disease can cause deadly infections in patients in health care facilities and in the community. The disease can enter through cuts and abrasions in the skin and some research investigators believe it can enter just through the skin alone just by touching contaminated surfaces and items or skin-to-skin contact with someone who is colonized with MRSA.

MRSA can be transmitted sexually or by a handshake. It can cause skin infections that may look like a spider bite, a pimple, rash or a boil and even large abscesses. They may appear red, swollen, painful or have pus or other drainage. Some people may have chills and fever, feel nauseous and acute pain. In serious cases, the patient may feel lethargic (fatigue) and headaches.

MRSA infections can cause other ranges of symptoms depending on the part of the body that is infected, such as bloodstream infections, pneumonia and urinary tract infections. It may also enter the bone marrow, causing osteomyelitis, and destroy heart valves, causing endocarditis. And it can cause septicemia, toxic shock and death.

The disease is easily spread in areas where people share crowded living conditions such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, gyms, military barracks, prisons and call centers, but it can also be contracted anywhere people share items. Anyone of any age can be infected.

Approximately 2 percent of the U.S. population is now colonized with MRSA, which means they are carrying the infection in their bodies.

Unfortunately, the cases of MRSA are not being recorded in most states as they should be. In North Carolina, the N.C. Communicable Disease Manual states that individual MRSA infections are not reportable under N.C. law; however, outbreaks, defined as two or more cases linked in time and place, should be investigated by the local health director if they represent a significant threat to the public health. Also, colonization surveys are time and resource intensive and are not generally necessary to direct control or prevention efforts. In short, North Carolina thinks it costs too much to keep accurate records. Other states may think similarly; however, the CDC has been able to get enough information to record that this deadly disease killed 18,650 people in the U.S., compared to 16,000 people who died from AIDS in 2005.

There is no vaccine, or cure, but there is some treatment, which may not last since the disease has mutated into at least 16 strains and some reports say it may be about to become an airborne disease. Also, there is research going on about the disease, but since it has been around since 1960 and with lack of reporting of cases and lack of knowledge about the disease, many people will continue dying from MRSA.

Until the medical research community and funding for such research decides to commit to education and research to eliminate MRSA, instead of such things as finding the latest erectile dysfunction pill, the public will continue suffering from this epidemic and we are left with what seems to be the be-all and end-all of treatment — the phrase “wash your hands.”

Maybe Tony Shalhoub’s Adrian Monk character is not as crazy as people think.

Jimmy E. Gay