Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.

An interesting study has just been published. I have some excerpts below, and the link to the article in its entirety.

This is one of the germs I'm permanently infected with. MRSA. It's such a virulent strain that every time I get the smallest break in my skin - or just overdo walking - I get infected again.

Think about this: I get re-infected all the time, even though every single day I take not one but two powerful antibiotics.

It's almost cost me my foot, my leg (twice) and my life. I'm covered in permanently painful scars from it, large and small. My left foot is maimed, and the intense pain inside it never stops. Never.

MRSA killed our close friend Burke, a very fine man, a man Walter and I both loved. It killed my blogdaughter's mother, after Jan had taken exquisitely good care of her for years and years.

Despite all that, the attitude of many medical people about this germ is stupendously careless. This is the first time I've ever heard of our country taking a major look at this superbug.

And what have they found?

MRSA now kills more Americans each year than AIDS.

Click the link, folks. Read it. Learn enough to take the proper precautions. It's all around you. It's why I don't meet other bloggers. It's why I won't visit my pregnant niece, and probably won't have contact with her child for some time.

But that's me.

Other folks? Many of them don't even know they're carriers.

Which means that it really doesn't matter how careful I am: you brush by it all the time.

Your kids do, too.

And statistically speaking, some of you who are reading this are also carriers. Whether you know it or not.

Drug-Resistant Staph Germ's Toll Is Higher Than Thought

A dangerous germ that has been spreading around the country causes more life-threatening infections than public health authorities had thought and is killing more people in the United States each year than the AIDS virus, federal health officials reported yesterday.
The microbe, a strain of a once innocuous staph bacterium that has become invulnerable to first-line antibiotics, is responsible for more than 94,000 serious infections and nearly 19,000 deaths each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculated.

Although mounting evidence shows that the infection is becoming more common, the estimate published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association is the first national assessment of the toll from the insidious pathogen, officials said.

"This is a significant public health problem. We should be very worried," said Scott K. Fridkin, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC.

Other researchers noted that the estimate includes only the most serious infections caused by the germ, known as methicillin-resistant S taphylococcus au reus (MRSA).

"It's really just the tip of the iceberg," said Elizabeth A. Bancroft, a medical epidemiologist at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health who wrote an editorial in JAMA accompanying the new studies. "It is astounding."

MRSA is a strain of the ubiquitous bacterium that usually causes staph infections that are easily treated with common, or first-line, antibiotics in the penicillin family, such as methicillin and amoxicillin. Resistant strains of the organism, however, have been increasingly turning up in hospitals and in small outbreaks outside of heath-care settings, such as among athletes, prison inmates and children.
MRSA, which is spread by casual contact, rapidly turns minor abscesses and other skin infections into serious health problems, including painful, disfiguring "necrotizing" abscesses that eat away tissue. The infections can often still be treated by lancing and draining sores and quickly administering other antibiotics, such as bactrim. But in some cases the microbe gets into the lungs, causing unusually serious pneumonia, or spreads into bone, vital organs and the bloodstream, triggering life-threatening complications. Those patients must be hospitalized and given intensive care, including intravenous antibiotics such as vancomycin.

In the new study, Fridkin and his colleagues analyzed data collected in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia , Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Oregon and Tennessee , identifying 5,287 cases of invasive MRSA infection and 988 deaths in 2005. The researchers calculated that MRSA was striking 31.8 out of every 100,000 Americans, which translates to 94,360 cases and 18,650 deaths nationwide. In comparison, complications from the AIDS virus killed about 12,500 Americans in 2005.

"This indicates these life-threatening MRSA infections are much more common than we had thought," Fridkin said.

In fact, the estimate makes MRSA much more common than flesh-eating strep infections, bacterial pneumonia and meningitis combined, Bancroft noted.

"These are some of the most dreaded invasive bacterial diseases out there," she said. "This is clearly a very big deal."

Studies have shown that hospitals could do more to improve standard hygiene to reduce the spread of the infection. Individuals can reduce their risk through common-sense measures, such as frequent hand-washing.


Cindi said...

Just tonight on the CBS news, one of their top stories was all about MRSA. I wondered if you might have seen it.

k said...

Shoot! No, I missed it. I wonder if they'll replay it. I'll keep my eyes open.

I bet they timed it with the release of that study.

betsye said...

this was on the news last night and again, this morning on 'the today show',...i hope you are watching ...

have a 'happiest wednesday', sweet lady


Mickysolo said...

It seems we share another ailment. At least once each year I wind up in the hospital because of bad leg infections. Oral antibiotics don't work so I'm on IV antibiotics for ten days. Once about ten years ago I got Sepsis and somehow pulled through. The biggest problem is that I get little warning.

To change the subject I enjoyed your posts and photos related to your trip. One of these days.

k said...

I finally saw it plastered all over the major MSM new reports. I probably jumped the gun by a day or so - a major report's release, and press releases too, are often pretty carefully timed. Nonentities like us boutique bloggers, we don't get the press releases saying PLEASE DON'T PUBLISH BEFORE WEDENESDAY!


mickysolo, I remember your MRSA leg infection bouts well. In fact, one of yours was what inspired one of my extra-long posts. It was about the simple precautionary measures us regular folks can take, even if we don't have all the fancy soaps and ointments and gloves and such that health care workers have access to. It's in one of the links in this post here. The guy I mentioned in that post - saying the post started as a long comment - was you.

See? You're an inspiration!

sue said...

This was on our local news, too. Scary stuff.

k said...

Yes. I was pretty sure it was the first time a nationwide study was done. And now we know that for sure.

So little effort could prevent so much of this. The vast majority of the time, all we really have to do is...

Wash our hands.

That's it.

And because it was politically inexpedient to delve into it, lots and lots of people have now died or been maimed by a preventable disease.

For them, it's already too late.

It makes me angry.

prettylady said...

This was on the radio that *I* listen to, which means that it's huge news indeed, because I listen to the classical station that rarely interrupts my meditations with sordid real-world issues. I refuse to be afraid, however. Fear is of the Devil.

Have you read that book, 'Better,' by a world-class surgeon? He discusses the hand-washing issue in depth.

k said...

I haven't read it, and I'd like to, PL. I'll be tied up for a while though. I'm curious: can you give me a hint?

I actually almost called this post, *Be respectful. Be very respectful.* Because as a general rule, I'm of like mind as far as fear goes. I see little use for it, and much damage caused by it.

Can fear be a tool for the good sometimes? There are situations where people don't use caution when they should. This is one. I want them to understand what's happening and why. More than that, I want very much for them to ACT upon that understanding.

Fear, I have no doubt, inhibits clear thought. I hope that if it's fear that gets people to pay attention, then they'll get over the fear part quickly - then learn.

All the time, I read about people's fears of perfectly harmless spiders and snakes and thunder and lightning and vampires and heaven knows what all. I feel like a broken record sometimes: Know what to be afraid of, and what not. Understand the difference between rational caution, and the terror that arises from ignorance.

Ignore-ance has caused death and destruction in this case and in so many others. As I sit here typing this my maimed foot aches and burns and twitches. Something's been happening inside it, I'm not sure what. It's a change, a change for the worse painwise; whether it means anything other than just the pain increase, I don't even have time to explore for a while. In the store today I got some extra horror-glances, more than usual, I never know why.

I'm used to the scars and the pain and the gentle cautions from the docs that the foot may not outlast me.

I don't want to see others have to get used to those things.

prettylady said...

I just read the book standing up in the bookstore, as is my wont, particularly with brand-new hardbacks. The gist of the discussion was that everybody in hospitals knows they need to wash their hands between every patient, but they just...don' Time and logistical pressures get the best of them, plus a certain amount of Denial. Rather like condom use in AIDS-ridden Africa.

What he discovered is that it doesn't work to admonish people about the dangers of non-washing; neither does it work to swoop into a hospital and impose a draconian system to force people to wash their hands. What works is holding meetings and asking people what the problems are--logistics, time, mechanics--and asking them for solutions.

They might come up with precisely the same solutions that would have been imposed from the outside, but they follow the solutions better if they come up with them themselves. He discovered that you don't figure out what works in one hospital and then implement it elsewhere; you go in and do the same meet-suggest-implement procedure in every new place.

I myself have an ironclad ritual of scrubbing my hands and arms up to the elbow, before and after each client. I do this while they're getting dressed and undressed. Simple, easy, and to my knowledge I've never contracted or passed anything to or from a client.