Dear Biology Nerd,
I keep hearing about community MRSA – what is it, and should I be worried?
Don’t worry, it’s really not that exciting.
One in three people has staph on their skin — it’s a bacteria that’s everywhere. Usually, the only time people get sick from it (i.e. “I got staph from the hospital”) is when they’ve already got an immune system that’s compromised. That said, MRSA is a nasty variety of staph because we’ve bred it to be resistant to many antibiotics by not completing courses of medication. That’s what MRSA stands for: “methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus,” annoyingly-resistant-to-meds staph. When people get it, they don’t have immunity to it because it’s a much tougher little bugger than usual.
The “communities” that are commonly associated with MRSA are prisons, dorms, military barracks, athletic teams, and daycares. These locations that have three things in common: nasty skin because of sweat and dirt, lot of people crowded together, and common abrasions (skinned knees, blisters, shankings…). The nasty skin environment acts like Miracle Grow for bacteria, and the openings in the skin roll out the welcome mat for that bacteria to come in.
MRSA are naturally aggressive bacteria, which is part of why they can grow to such terrifying absesses, but people also let them get out of hand before seeking medical attention. Commonly, MRSA’ll present on the skin as a “pimple” that gets worse (or gets picked at and then gets worse). Pretty soon, you’ve got a boil the size of a softball and you’re in the ER with a doctor slicing it open to drain the goo. Gross!
If you live in a barracks, a daycare, or the Big House, or if you’re just worried about it, the best prevention is constant hand washing and avoiding sharing linens or towels with people who might have it. In a side note, it is also possible for people to become “carriers” of MRSA and have large colonies on their skin at all times but not be affected by it. I know a girl who has this and it never makes her sick. However, if she is in the hospital visiting other people or is a patient herself, she is placed under “contact precautions” — healthcare workers and visitors have to put on disposable gowns and gloves before going in her room and take them off before leaving to prevent the bacteria from spreading to other patients on their skin or clothes.
So, uh, if you know someone like this, don’t let them touch your open wounds.
And finish your antibodies!
The Biology Nerd
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