MRSA Infections Turning Deadly

<"">MRSA, the mutated form of staph infection, is even more dangerous than previously believed.  Once seen chiefly in hospitals, MRSA is now striking healthy people outside of hospitals and nursing homes and has emerged as a community-based—as opposed to hospital-derived—disease.  Among patients infected with community-based methicillan-resistant Staphylococcus aureus—MRSA—over 20 percent were dead within one year, according to new research conducted at McGill University Health Center, Montreal, Canada.

According to Dr. Samy Suissa, of McGill, doctors have to be on the lookout “for increasingly frequent community-acquired MRSA infections that too often turn out to be fatal.”  Suissa and colleagues used a United Kingdom general practice database to identify 1439 MRSA patients diagnosed in the community from 2001 to 2004.  Each patient was compared with up to 10 matched patients without MRSA.  All of the subjects were older than 18 years of age—the median subject age was 70 years—and none were hospitalized within the previous two years. The MRSA patients were more likely to have other medical conditions, the researchers report in the online medical journal BMC Medicine.

According to Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) figures for 2005, nearly 19,000 people died in the U.S. from MRSA infections and an additional 94,000 were seriously sickened.  Of the 19,000 patients studied in 2005, 2,000 patients were healthy people contracting community-based MRSA.  In Canada, about 220,000 people are sickened and an additional 8,000 to 12,000 die each year.  Also, well-known but not widely publicized, patients surviving MRSA often require amputations to cure the infections.  MRSA has infected players from four NFL teams, some NYC firefighters, and has infected or killed a growing number of school children.

After one year of follow-up, 21.8 percent of the MRSA patients studied had died compared to only five percent of those in the non-MRSA research group.  “Our study suggests that MRSA can be a potentially serious infection in the community leading to increased mortality,” the investigators concluded, adding that the “judicious use of antibiotics is essential to prevent these quite deadly community-acquired MRSA infections,” given the emergence of antibiotic resistance when antibiotics are used indiscriminately.

Because bacteria want to survive, they adapt to antibiotics, mutating as we overuse them just enough to ensure drugs have no effect on them and allowing them to spread with increasing power.  Today, super bugs are epidemic, incurable, and deadly diseases that stemmed from easy-to-treat infections such as the mutated form of staph.  In the case of MRSA, if the infection is not treated early, it becomes resistant to all but the one antibiotic of last resort.  Formerly this antibiotic was used in only the most potent of cases; however, today, this drug is being used more and more and—as a result—MRSA is showing signs of developing resistance to this last drug.  The more we prescribe antibiotics the stronger the bacteria become, learning how to better adapt to emerging infections and medicines.  New MRSA drugs are being developed; however, it’s just a matter of time before the superbug will become resistant to them, too.

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