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Staph Germs Proving Harder to Treat

Oct 28, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP The Associated Press (AP) is now reporting that doctors are seeing drug-resistant staph bacteria acquiring so-called “superbug powers” resulting in much more serious illness than previously believed.  In the past, these germs had been easier to treat than the dangerous forms of staph found in hospitals and nursing homes, reports the AP.

“Until recently we rarely thought of it as a problem among healthy people in the community,” said Dr. Rachel Gorwitz of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Drug-resistant staph germs are “causing outbreaks in schools, on sports teams, and in other social situations,” said the AP.  A CDC study also revealed that at least 10 percent of cases involving the most common community strain were able to evade the antibiotics traditionally used to treat them.  “They’re becoming more resistant and they’re coming into the hospitals,” where they swap gene components with other bacteria and grow even more dangerous, said Dr. Keith Klugman, an infectious disease expert at Emory University. “It’s really a major epidemic.”

The methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus germ—known as MRSA—is carried on the skin or in the nose and can affect others with carriers exhibiting no symptoms.  Because of this, some hospitals now isolate and test new patients to see if they carry the germ.  MRSA can be dangerous if it reaches the bloodstream or organs and related pneumonia, sinus infections, and so-called “flesh-eating” MRSA wounds are increasing, according to doctors reporting yesterday at a joint meeting in Washington of the American Society for Microbiology and the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

There are about 95,000 serious infections and 20,000 deaths due to MRSA in the U.S. annually and to treat them, “we’ve had to dust off antibiotics so old that they’ve lost their patent,” said Dr. Robert Daum, a pediatrician at the University of Chicago.  The CDC used hospitals in nine cities and states to test samples of the most common community MRSA strain, USA300, over the last few years.  While, MRSA is generally only resistant to penicillin-type drugs, 10 percent of the 824 samples reviewed were able to evade clindamycin, tetracycline, Bactrim, or other antibiotics.  “The drugs that doctors have typically used to treat staph infections are not effective against MRSA,” and family doctors are now beginning to see problems previously only seen by hospital infection specialists, Gorwitz noted.  Worse, many of the community strains were able to “easily swap genes and become even hardier,” reported the AP.

The AP also reported that doctors from Spain reported the first hospital outbreak of MRSA resistant to a last-resort drug sold by Pfizer Inc.  Georgetown University reported a spike in sinus infections due to MRSA, accounting for 69 percent of the staph-caused cases there between 2004 and 2006 compared with 30 percent from 2001 to 2003.  Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit revealed over half of the staph-caused pneumonia cases from 2005 through 2007 were due to MRSA.  Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland VA Medical Center physicians found that “by the time hospitals isolated and tested new patients to see if they harbored MRSA, many had already contaminated their skin and surroundings. Within about a day of being admitted, roughly a third had already started to spread the germ,” said the AP.

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