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New National CDC Campaign Targets MRSA

Sep 12, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) just launched the National MRSA Education Initiative to teach parents how to protect children from skin infections caused by dangerous methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria.

MRSA is a mutated staph that has emerged in recent years and, when not treated early, is resistant to all but the one antibiotic of last resort.  Formerly used in the most potent cases, this drug is being used more and more and, as a result, MRSA is developing resistance to this last successful medication.  MRSA can cause severe infections in people in hospitals and other health care facilities and now has also been seen to cause skin infections in healthy people who have not recently been hospitalized, the CDC said.

Americans make over 12 million annual visits to doctors for skin infections such as those caused by staph; in some areas of the U.S., MRSA accounts for over half of such skin infections.  In 2006, 94,000 Americans developed MRSA with most infected in healthcare facilities.  Previously limited to hospital and nursing home patients, MRSA is now striking and killing in communities.  CDC estimates place 2006’s MRSA death toll at 19,000 Americans, with 2,000 healthy people contracting community-based MRSA.  That figure is expected to increase.

MRSA is spread through direct contact with an infection, sharing personal items such as towels or razors that have touched infected skin, or by touching MRSA contaminated surfaces.  Parents need to teach children about the very early signs and symptoms of MRSA skin infections, which initially appear as a bump or infected area that may be red, swollen, painful, warm, or may contain pus. Fever may be another symptom.

MRSA is a fully preventable disease and very treatable in early stages.  With early and proper diagnosis—when there is a small eruption on the skin and before MRSA reaches the bloodstream—the infection is easily treated with general-purpose antibiotics, the sore is bandaged and kept clean, and the infection is cured.  There is no down time and patients can resume activities with no risk of falling ill or contaminating others.  Without treatment or with incorrect diagnosis and treatment, the infection spreads rapidly and can lead to respiratory failure and surgeries, attacking vital organs like the lungs and heart.  Survivors are not always returned to their pre-MRSA condition, losing limbs, hearing, and full use of damaged organs.

The new National MRSA Education Initiative highlights specific measures parents can take to protect themselves and their families from such MRSA infections and includes Websites, fact sheets, brochures, posters, radio and print public service announcements, blogging sites for moms, Web banners, and mainstream media interviews.  Information on the campaign and MRSA prevention will be shared through community and school groups, professional organizations, faith-based groups, and national health conferences.  The CDC said parents need to help children keep their cuts and scrapes clean and covered and to encourage children to have good hand washing and hygiene habits.  "Well-informed parents are a child's best defense against MRSA and other skin infections.  Recognizing the signs and receiving treatment in the early stages of a skin infection reduces the chances of infection becoming severe or spreading," Dr. Rachel Gorwitz, a pediatrician and medical epidemiologist with CDC's Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, said.

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