Morehead Memorial Hospital is joining with hundreds of healthcare facilities across the nation in addressing the growing problem of drug resistant infections. Since their introduction, antibiotics have significantly decreased death and disability resulting from infectious diseases. The bad news is that disease-causing microbes are resilient and can develop ways to survive drugs that are meant to kill or weaken them. As these hard-to-kill “super germs” become more common, antibiotics become less effective.

One of the most serious drug-resistant microbes to emerge in recent years is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), which has been prominently featured in the news and on television programs. MRSA occurs most frequently among individuals who undergo invasive medical procedures or who have weakened immune systems and are being treated in hospitals and healthcare facilities such as nursing homes and dialysis centers. MRSA in healthcare settings can cause serious and potentially life threatening infections in the blood or at a surgical site or may cause pneumonia.

MRSA can also infect people outside of a healthcare setting, resulting in a condition called community-associated MRSA. People with community-associated MRSA generally develop skin infections that look like pimples or boils which can be painful, swollen and have infection or drainage. These skin infections often occur in otherwise healthy people. Community-associated MRSA is on the rise in communities.

Over the past decade, cases of community-associated MRSA have become increasingly common. Community-associated MRSA is often found among persons who live and work in close proximity. Clusters of cases have been found among high school, university and professional athletes, military recruits, and prisoners.
Risk factors include close skin-to-skin contact, cuts or abrasions in the skin, contaminated items or surfaces, crowded living conditions and poor hygiene.

Bacteria and viruses
To understand how drug-resistant organisms have evolved, it is necessary to know the different types of germs that cause infection. There are two main types of germs that cause most infections – viruses and bacteria. Viruses cause most coughs and sore throats and all colds. Viruses cannot be cured with antibiotics (with the exception of Type A and B influenza and herpes viruses which can be cured with antiviral antibiotics). You recover from most viral infections when the illness has run its course. Bacterial infections, on the other hand, can be cured with antibiotics.

Resistant bacteria
Each time an antibiotic is taken, sensitive bacteria are killed or disabled, but resistant ones may be left to grow and multiply. Resistant bacteria do not respond to the antibiotic and continue to cause infection.

Each time you take an antibiotic unnecessarily or use an antibiotic improperly, you increase the chance of developing resistant bacteria. Resistant bacteria can also be spread to family and community members. Because of these resistant bacteria, some diseases that were once easy to treat are now becoming nearly impossible to treat.

Fighting back
Morehead Infection Control Manager Teresa Johnson, RN, says the hospital continues to practice system-wide MRSA elimination strategies. The goal is to be more proactive rather than reactive to the spread of healthcare associated infections.

“Many of the practices have been in place for a long, long time,” she explained. “Now we are addressing them with a more structured campaign.”

Practicing good hand hygiene, not sharing personal items such as razors and towels, keeping wounds clean and covered, and seeking immediate medical attention if you have a painful skin infection are good first steps toward preventing serious infections in our communities.