Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA)

By Meg Marinis, Director of Medical Research Apr 25, 2013
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Could you hear my heart breaking at the end of tonight's episode? Because it did, and every time I think of Dr. Bailey's face in that last scene with Dr. Webber? I instantly remember her sadness and sense of betrayal, and my heart breaks all over again. 

Because it's BAILEY. This sort of thing isn't supposed to happen to people like Bailey. But it did, and now we have to see if and how she can come back from something like this…

The CDC investigators determined that Bailey's patients died from complications due to contracting MRSA USA600.

MRSA is a type of staph bacteria that can cause infections all over the body. Staph, a common form of bacteria, can usually be treated with antibiotics. However, over the years, several strains of staph (such as MRSA) have evolved and have now become resistant to the antibiotics that once could destroy it. For example, MRSA was discovered over fifty years ago and has since developed resistance to methicillin, amoxicillin, penicillin, oxacillin, and even more.

Its resistance stems from years of unnecessary antibiotic use; for example, patients routinely take antibiotics for sicknesses such as colds, flu, and other viruses – illnesses that typically do not dissipate with antibiotics. As antibiotics are used more and more frequently, they lose their ability to fight the germs that originally were intended to fight. Resistance has been, and will continue to be, a growing concern in the healthcare field as long as people keep using the antibiotics inappropriately.

We know how Bailey's patients were infected, but are there other methods of transmission?

In most cases, MRSA spreads by contact – when one person touches another's skin infection or other items such as bandages, towels, or razors that have touched the infected area. However, if surfaces are contaminated, a person may not definitely acquire the infection. A person's risk increases if they happen to have any cuts or open wounds that provide an opening for the bacteria (like with surgical patients).

Healthcare facilities remain a vulnerable setting for MRSA infections due to the number of immune-compromised patients, procedures that require openings in the skin, and possible colonization of the facility's personnel. Other at-risk locations include: athletic facilities, dormitories, military barracks, households, nursing homes, correctional facilities, and daycare centers.

The patients initially presented with swelling, redness, and pain on their arms.

These patients had recently received dialysis grafts (in their arms), so MRSA first infected their surgical sites. However, it obviously and quickly progressed to the life-threatening stage, which includes infection of the bloodstream and pneumonia.

Signs and symptoms do vary in individual cases, but most MRSA infections begin on the skin. In early stages, the infection may first resemble a pimple, spider bite, or red bump that is swollen and painful. It then can increase to an abscess or boil that contains pus and requires surgical drainage. Usually, the symptoms will form in areas of skin damage (at the location of a cut or abrasion) or areas of the body covered in hair (armpit, back of neck, groin, buttocks, male beard).

In the early stages, MRSA can typically be treated – patients just need to be aware of even minor skin infections in order to ensure a prompt diagnosis. Doctors can diagnose the infection by checking a tissue sample or nasal secretion for the bacteria. For example, doctors may take a small biopsy of skin or drainage from the affected area and send it to the laboratory where it will be studied in depth.

Patients should not attempt to self-treat the infection – it could potentially worsen or even spread to others. For skin infections, the patient may need a doctor to physically drain the abscess as well as prescribe an antibiotic. As in other infections, MRSA requires a full dose of antibiotics because some people will develop repeat infections. If the infection reaches more severe stages, surgical treatment or further antimicrobial interventions may be needed.

For more information on MRSA, please visit the following link:

http://www.cdc.gov/mrsa/