MRSA – How bad is it really?

Last week a mother called me during my call-in hours. Her 14 year old daughter had a rash that looked like a spider bite. She went to a walk-in clinic where they cultured it. The result came back MRSA positive. She was very upset and in tears about this diagnosis.

What is happening?

Because of excessive use of antibiotics the number of drug-resistant bacteria is growing rapidly. How often do we hear from the doctor: “It’s viral but to prevent a superimposed bacterial infection take this antibiotic.”? Researchers estimate that half of all antibiotics prescribed are unnecessary.

What is less known is that more than 70% of the antibiotics used in the US are given to food animals (e.g. chickens, pigs and cattle) in the absence of disease. Antibiotic use in food animal production has also been associated with the emergence of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. The Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit group based in Cambridge, Mass., estimated that 26.6 million pounds of antibiotics are administered to animals each year, with only 2 million pounds used to treat infections in the animals, with the rest being used to speed an improve animal growth. The European Union banned this practice in animals in its jurisdiction 1998.

In a recent article in The New England Journal of Medicine, three separate studies showed that antibiotic resistant bacteria are widespread in commercial meats and poultry. Consumers who eat these products have been found to have the antibiotic resistant bacteria in their intestines. Since genes that confer resistance to drugs can jump from one organism to another, the studies suggest that resistance spreads to many types of infections.

MRSA is a staphylococcus aureus bacterium that is Methicillin-resistant. It does not respond to the common antibiotic like penicillin, methicillin, and cephalosporins. The organism is often sub-categorized as Community-Associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) or Hospital-Associated MRSA (HA-MRSA).

The recent news of the deaths of a 14-year-old boy in Brooklyn, N.Y, and of another young person in Newark, N.J. that were caused by methicilin-resistant Staphyloccuc aureus. (MRSA) spread like wildfire through the national press and caused confusion and fear.

Community-acquired MRSA infections are usually mild, involving a minor skin infection that may look like a spider bite or pimple (red and swollen, may be painful or pus-filled) or an ingrown hair. Although these lesions are cause by bacteria resistant to a widely used antibiotic, they remain susceptible to other antimicrobial agents that can be used and, therefore, death from these MRSA infections is very unusual.

According to an article in The Scandinavian Journal of Infectious Diseases published in May 2007 43% of the families that were randomly selected for the study had members who tested positive for MRSA. MRSA therefore is very common. Most MRSA carriers are asymptomatic.

However MRSA is especially troublesome in hospitals. People are in hospitals because they are sick and therefore vulnerable to further assaults from microorganisms. Open wounds, invasive devices, and weakened immune systems are causes for much greater risk for infection than the general public.

A large study led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the October 17, 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association estimated that MRSA would have been responsible for 94,360 serious infections and associated with 18,650 hospital stay-related deaths in the United States in 2005. These figures would make MRSA infection responsible for more deaths in the U.S. each year than AIDS. 34 of every 1000 U.S. hospital inpatients are infected with MRSA, according to a survey of more than 1200 hospitals (21% of U.S. hospitals).

Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), the father of microbiology postulated in his “Germ Theory of Disease Causation” that microbes from an external source invade the body and are the primal cause of many diseases. However on his deathbed he revoked this theory stating: “The microbe is nothing, the terrain everything.”

Microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, molds, viruses, parasites, etc are all opportunistic. They are the result of disease rather than the cause thereof. Germs or bacteria have no influence, whatsoever, on healthy cells. Germs or microbes flourish as scavengers in tissues weakened by disease. They are living off the unprocessed metabolic waste and diseased, malnourished, nonresistant tissue in the first place.

We therefore have a choice: we can wait and hope for a miracle antibiotic that eradicates all microorganisms, or we can actively strive for a healthy, hygienic life eating wholesome food, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, having a rhythmic lifestyle, taking time to meditate, taking deep breaths and letting go of that underlying fear. And yes, it does helps to wash hands regularly and avoid crowded places.

Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.
– Rainer Maria Rilke

Peter Hinderberger, M.D., Ph.D., DIHom practices at Ruscombe. The mission of his practice is to promote optimal wellbeing by providing health care through an integrated approach, combining conventional and complementary therapies, which include Anthroposophic medicine, homeopathy, and salutogenesis.

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