Tough-to-treat infection now all too commonAug 17, 2006 | AP A once-rare drug-resistant germ now appears to cause more than half of all skin infections treated in U.S. emergency rooms, say researchers who documented the superbug's startling spread in the general population.
Many victims mistakenly thought they just had spider bites that wouldn't heal, not drug-resistant staph bacteria.
Only a decade ago, these germs were hardly ever seen outside of hospitals and nursing homes.
Doctors also were caught off-guard most of them unwittingly prescribed medicines that do not work against the bacteria.
"It is time for physicians to realize just how prevalent this is," said Gregory Moran of Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, who led the study.
Skin infections can be life-threatening if bacteria get into the bloodstream. Drug-resistant strains can also cause a vicious type of pneumonia and even "flesh-eating" wounds.
The CDC paid for the study, published in today's New England Journal of Medicine. Several authors have consulted for companies that make antibiotics.
Researchers analyzed all skin infections among adults who went to hospital emergency rooms in 11 U.S. cities, including Charlotte, in August 2004. Of the 422 cases, 249, or 59 percent, were caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. Such bacteria are impervious to the penicillin family of drugs long used for treatment.
The proportion of infections due to MRSA ranged from 15 percent to as high as 74 percent in some hospitals.
"This completely matches what our experience at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital has been," said Buddy Creech, an infectious-disease specialist whose hospital was not included in the study. "Usually what we see is a mom or dad brings their child in with what they describe as a spider bite that's not getting better or a pimple that's not getting better," and it turns out to be MRSA.
The good news: MRSA infections contracted outside a hospital are easier to treat. The study found that several antibiotics work against them, including some sulfa drugs that have been around for decades.