Category: MRSA In The News

MRSA’s Image Problem is Killing Us

MRSA is a worldwide problem. In the U.S. alone at least 19,000 people die every year because of it. 100,000 more become infected with a disfiguring, disabling, life-altering MRSA-caused disease. And studies in the U.S. and Canada show the problem increased 17-fold over an 11 year period beginning in 1995. Yet neither government nor the public seems concerned. Why is that?

Daniel Kahneman is a 77 year old Israeli psychologist. He won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 for explaining the wayward thinking that is behind poor economic decision making. He was presented with the American Psychological

an Israeli-American psychologist and winner of the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

Association’s Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contributions to Psychology in 2007. And his life’s work was turned into his 2011 New York Times best-selling book Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Our problem, says Kahneman, is that we “think” too emotionally and quickly and as a result we get important things wrong: often times it is the fear factor at work. That explains why we are afraid of certain kinds of well publicized but low probability risk but indifferent to more objectively dangerous but less probable ones. Murder, accidents, and terrorism get headlines. Diabetes and asthma don’t. So you are more likely to be afraid of the first 3 despite them being far less likely to affect you. Studies show that people judge deaths by accidents to be more than 300 times more likely than deaths by diabetes, but the true ratio is 1:4. And while death by disease is 18 times more likely than accidental death people judge the two as being about equally likely.

Kahneman calls this the “availability heuristic.” It means that we assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which we can think of examples of them. Therefore the more dramatic an event, the more vivid the imagery associated with it, the more it’s attached to celebrity, and the more it’s replayed in the media, the easier we can retrieve examples from our memory. The most recent example of this is Asiana Flight 214 that crash-landed in San Francisco this past Saturday morning killing 2 and seriously injuring dozens more. Such a remarkable event, easily retrieved from the memory bin, is what causes us to grossly exaggerate the frequency and dangerousness of events – like travelling by air.  Importantly, it’s not just the public that falls prey to this kind of  thinking, our government decision makers do too, and perhaps no more so than in the context of terrorism.

We are more likely to drown in a bathtub than we are to die from a terrorist attack. However, since 9/11, life in the United States has been turned upside down, including the way in which the federal government allocates funds in an effort to deal with this perceived risk. There was a shift of tens of millions of dollars of federal research money since 2001 away from pathogens that cause major public health problems to obscure germs that the government fears might be used in a bioterrorist attack. So much so that according to a 2005 report in the New York Times,  758 scientists including 2 Nobel Prize winners petitioned the U.S. Government’s National Institutes of Health  saying grants for research that cause anthrax and 5 other diseases that are rare or non-existent in the U.S. have increased 15-fold since 2001. Over the same period grants to study bacteria not associated with bioterrorism including those associated with tuberculosis and syphilis have decreased 27 per cent. One of the petitioners, Sidney Altman, a scientist at Yale, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1989, said that while a risk of bioterrorist attack existed he considered it “a very minor factor” among all the risks faced by the nation.

Communities like MRSASurvivors need our support to change the MRSA image problem

So given all of this, what chance does MRSA and its cousin pathogens have of capturing public imagination and government health care dollars? On the face of it not a lot, however, there is an important precedent in the history of infectious disease that suggests otherwise.

In 1981 another then unknown disease was making its way into the United States: HIV/AIDS. The Centers for Disease Control dubiously labelled it the “4H disease” because it affected Haitians, homosexuals, heroin users, and hemophiliacs. The stigma resulted in horrific behavior towards a suspected carrier: they’d be subject to compulsory testing, mandatory quarantines, and violence. If you had it you were scared to tell anyone, health care workers quit their jobs rather than risk infection while treating someone who had it, and government treatment programs and research dollars were virtually non-existent. The word AIDS became a code word for any shameful malady. And if you got it, you died. Yet today, HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence. People have it and lead full lives. There is much more public understanding and acceptance, and there’s government support for programming and research.

There are several reasons for the turn-around but one event in particular drew the attention of University of Central Florida social scientist Philip Pollock: In 1991 Magic Johnson told the world he was HIV-positive. What had been stigmatized as largely a “gay disease” now had a very different face. Pollock wanted to know if Magic Johnson’s public acknowledgement mattered. This fit nicely into Pollock’s interest in how you go about changing the public’s perception of issues. What he found was that immediately after the announcement and again 10 months later the public “constructed” their view of AIDS more positively, and that included a 15-point increase in support of AIDS spending. Pollock says that intense, public, value-laden communications, or “critical moments,” are of key importance in changing public awareness and opinion of issues.

This is exactly what Kahneman is saying. The flip side of dramatic personal testimony constantly played out in the media is our inability to bring to mind statistics about obscure-sounding Latin-named pathogens. No matter how strong the numbers are, the public and our representatives in government can’t “hear” them: that’s just human nature, says Kahneman. As he puts it, “the world in our heads is not a precise replica of reality.”

In other words, it’s not just the pathogens that we have to confront – it’s also the flawed way in which we (don’t) think about them.


Antibiotic Usage needs to be Studied for Long Term Harm

Apart from the creation of superbugs, overuse of antibiotics has negative consequences including killing many of our beneficial bacteria.  In the grand scheme of things, little is known about the bacteria we live with, and how they individually as a species, and collectively in combinations forming biofilms, get affected by various exposures to our antibiotics.  Insufficient research is being conducted to help us find the answers.

Some research has suggested that antibiotic use may play a role in conditions that lead to obesity, Type 1 Diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies and even asthma, a common chronic airway disorder. Patient populations suffering from all of these chronic diseases appear to be increasing in prevalence, but very little is being done to understand if anything in contributing to all of these conditions as a group instead of just individually.

In agriculture, antibiotics have been used as “growth promoters” enabling farmers to increase their livestock yield, as their animals can gain more weight with less food. The influence of these antibiotics on the livestock we eat is likely to have some impact on our own bodies but this field has not yet been adequately investigated primarily due to lack of financial motivation. In Europe, where usage of antibiotics in livestock as growth promoters has been banned, it was determined that the same dollars spent on extra food resulted in the same growth as yielded by the additional antibiotics.

Given that antibiotics are a critical part of our medicinal arsenal, it is not likely that antibiotics will be replaced any time soon. However, it is important to start asking the questions and dedicate more resources to learning more about how the antibiotics we use directly and indirectly are truly affecting us. Once we learn more about this impact, then we can start to make progress in influencing the development of new alternatives and better approaches to antibiotic usage.

How Much Is Your MRSA Death Worth?

Traditionally, disease has been presented as an army of creepily crawly microbes, lurking on every surface and wafting through the air, waiting to jump up onto our skin or sneak into our nostrils to infect us.

But in an eternally ironic twist of circumstances, the very thing that we use to fight off the bacterial invader might actually be our most fickle foe. According to the medical journel Lancet, antibiotic resistance is now “a global health concern.”

With friends like that, who needs enemies?

The increased exposure to all sorts of antibiotics in our everyday lives has made it so that bacteria that used to be wiped out by a dose of antibiotics have developed resistant strains.

One of the most common – and most serious – of these is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), the resistant strain of the staph bacteria most commonly found in health-care settings. Read More

Can Honey Really Kill MRSA?

As antibiotic resistance becomes an increasing issue, researchers are busy investigating natural alternatives to fight deadly infections. Researchers in Liverpool for example, investigated the effects of using honey as an antibacterial agent for post-operative wound care in the fight against MRSA. Patients that had honey applied to their wounds had 36% fewer incidences of infection, and spent around 25% less time in the hospital compared to those who were not administered honey.

Lead researcher, Dr. Val Robson, explained that honey has antibacterial properties because of its high sugar content, presence of hydrogen peroxide, and low water content. Robson has since dubbed the honey utilized in this study “Medihoney.”

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1 In 3 Nurse Bags Carry Deadly Superbug MRSA

Lipstick? Check. Wallet? Check. Car keys? Check. Deadly bacteria???

Sometimes, we carry around more than we think in our bags; such is the case for hundreds of mobile clinicians in the UK and around the globe. Studies show that 55% of nurses’ medical bags that have been used to deliver community care – that is, at home medical care – in the UK are never cleaned. A mere 6% are said to be cleaned weekly. And yet, a nurse visits an average of 17 patients a day, the majority being for wound care. Plug all these stats in, and it is not surprising to hear that one third of all medical bags are said to carry the MRSA bug. There doesn’t exist any official cleaning standards for nurses` bags, and as a result, traditional bags are often outdated, unsafe, simple rucksacks made from absorbent material. They’re full of pockets, buttons, zippers, and folds that are difficult to clean and that can serve as perfect housing and free public transit for bacteria, particularly MRSA.

My grandmother, a community nurse in her day and a hand sanitizer-aholic, recounts that even in being conscientious of cleaning her bag regularly it was nearly impossible to get every surface, for all the snaps and crevices prevented thoroughness. She could sterilize until the cows came home, but the deepest corner of the side pocket, or the underside of the zipper, or the crease in the fabric were forever vulnerable to bacteria.

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Whooping Cough Making A Comeback: Is This The Worse Year Since 1959?

There has recently been a lot of talk about pertussis, also known as “whooping cough.” This year, the US appears to be headed towards epidemic levels of the disease as the number of new cases approach the highest rates in 50 years. Almost 18,000 cases have been reported so far, more than double the number seen last year at the same time.

It’s first important to understand why we are in the current predicament. For decades, antibiotics have been misused and abused. Did you know that more than 29 million pounds of antibiotics are given to food-producing animals in the US every year? This is done to help promote growth and prevent disease.  Antibiotics have thus become less effective at treating diseases such as whooping cause. To make matters worse, few drug companies are currently developing new antibiotics to help treat serious infections. Instead, many choose to invest in the development of blockbuster drugs to help treat cancer, alzheimers and parkinsons.

Chances are, you have or know someone that has received the whopping cough vaccine. But the amount of time that has elapsed since then is a significant part of the issue at hand. This is due in part to the fact that some individuals may not be keeping up with booster shots as recommended, and others are now being administered a different version which scientists now believe may not be as effective as the bacteria becomes resistant to drugs.

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Mother Of Twins, Lana Kuykendall, Fights Deadly Flesh-Eating Bacteria

Thirteen hours after giving birth to a healthy set of twins, a South Carolina woman was diagnosed with a rare flesh-eating infection. This is the second case of necrotizing fasciitis to make headlines this month.

On May 8th, just a few hours after being discharged from Emery University Hospital in Atlanta, Lana Kuykendall was admitted in to Greenville Memorial Hospital.  According to NBC News, Friend Kayla Moon stated Kuykendall, “was having a lot of pain and noticed a spot on her leg.”

Kuykendall’s husband, Darren Kuykendall, stated that the ‘spot’ initially appeared as a red and black bruise about the size of a 3 by 5 index card; however, after a half hour it grew almost a quarter of an inch. Within hours the strange bruise grew to cover the back of her leg. Moon told reporters that, “(Kuykendall) kept getting worse in front of your eyes. She would just get worse and worse and worse. Every minute it was like she was going down.”

Initially, the Kuykendall couple rushed to the hospital thinking that the spot was a blood clot. Within an hour Lana Kuykendall was diagnosed with the rare-flesh eating bacteria and was rushed into the surgery room. Kuykendall underwent four surgeries; doctors removed the infected flesh and believe to have stopped the spread of the bacteria with the help of antibiotics. No Limbs had to be removed during this process.  Lana is currently in critical, but stable condition.

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California School Closed Due to a Potential MRSA Infection

Everyone is looking for a better way to save these kids.  Every kid we take care of, it’s like our own child; that’s why we were here – Dr. John Bradley, Chief of Infectious Disease at Rady Children’s Hospital

A Carmel Valley private school was closed last month due to the possibility of one of the students having a MRSA infection.  All campus activities were shut down and classes cancelled on a Thursday afternoon until being reopened the following Monday. It was suspected a female student returning from a retreat that very day to the school had potentially been infected.  A letter posted on the campus website announced that the  private school would be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized by trained personnel. “We feel that we are best serving the interests and well-being of our students, families and employees by taking this precaution.”

According to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, MRSA rates have been on the decline in hospital settings in the last decade while community-acquired cases have increased a notable degree.  Just ten years ago MRSA infections were very rare in San Diego, but as Dr. John Bradley points out, the disease is becoming more “resistant and more virulent than ever.” MRSA infections can take the outward appearance of physically damaged skin: painful red areas, a raised bump, abscesses and open sores.  MRSA can also induce symptoms of fever and chills.  Early detection and treatment, especially in children, reduces the potential severity MRSA as it can be life-threatening and often lead to limb amputation.  The invasive cases are extremely dangerous as they can cause a child to die within a few days.

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MRSA and Meat: 64% of Pork Samples In Grocery Stores Contaminated by Livestock and Handlers

We’ve blogged in the past about MRSA being found on grocery meat in Detroit. Now, the same problem is occurring in Iowa, Minnesota, and New Jersey. A a recent study published this past January revealed that 64% of pork samples from grocery stores in these areas were contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus. Of these, more than 6% tested positive for MRSA, the drug-resistant strain of Staph.

Tara Smith, an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa and one of the study’s contributing authors notes the uncertainty of the source of contamination. The molecular typing from these samples are shown as a combination of both “human” and “pig” strains. This suggests that the bacteria may be from both the farm and the people who handle the products.

As most of you know, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is one of the most deadly and resistant strains of Staph bacteria. According to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention, more than 90,000 people develop a serious MRSA infection every year and up to 20% of the infected population die. Of those that survive, many face incredibly difficult recovery periods that often involve more medication and surgery. Read More

MRSA In The News – Now Being Found In Milk

Another instance of MRSA is happening again, but this time scientists in the UK have found a strain of MRSA in cow’s milk. It was found during a study on udder infection mastitis in dairy herds. It has since caused a small number of serious blood infections and other minor infections in people. There is no clear link to how people are becoming infected with this strain of MRSA, but the study suggests that this is likely a result of being in contact with infected cattle or people that work with animals.

Dr. Mark Holmes, who led the study, stated that milk from infected cows was safe to drink because the bug, along with other bacteria, was killed by pasteurisation. This is good news since more than 99% of milk consumed in the UK is pasteurised.

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