MRSA infections on the rise in Vermont

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(Host) Aggressive, antibiotic-resistant infections  have been a problem in hospitals for decades. But in recent years they’ve been occurring more and more in non-hospital settings.

Health officials say the main offender in Vermont communities is a strain of staph infection known as MRSA. 

Vermont does not keep track of the number of MRSA infections, but indications are they’re on the rise.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese)  It’s proper name is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus.

(Brenda )It presents itself as a pimple. It starts getting red around the pimple, gets bigger. It looks like a boil, it looks like a spider bite. And if you get it you really need to get it cultured and get it taken care of.

(Keese) Brenda is a health care worker. She asks that we don’t use her last name.

(Brenda)It’s just that I don’t want any stigmatisms tied to my job or to people that I associate with. Because it is contagious from skin to skin contact You know it’s not something you want to share with people. Oh by the way I had MRSA. Oh really. I’ll see you later.

(Keese) MRSA is spread not only by skin to skin contact but by contact with pets or things people with MRSA have used. It can be present in hospitals. And last fall Vermont saw two much publicized outbreaks: one that was linked to an unlicensed tattoo parlor and another in the Southern Vermont Correctional Center. It’s also been associated with sports teams and locker rooms.

Once contracted, the infections may spread to other family members.

Health officials expect them to become more prevalent as pathogens develop resistance to more and more drugs.

Dr. Donald Swartz is the medical director for the Vermont Department of Health.

(Swartz) We see these outbreaks spread wherever people are close together particularly where they’re sharing things like equipment or surfaces or whatever.

(Keese) But Swartz cautions people not to over-react. It takes a fair amount of the bacteria for people to become infected.

(Swartz) So casually touching someone who’s had MRSA, or casually touching surfaces that someone who carries MRSA has been touching, is very unlikely to transmit an infection unless you happen to be susceptible for some reason.

(Keese) Brenda says she was treated with a sulpha drug, but her MRSA came back and she had to use a second drug. Now she’s been two years without an infection.

(Brenda) It’s very devastating.

(Keese) It also took a lot of work. She had to spray the surfaces in her house with a bleach solution and wash her linens and garments daily. She had to throw out all her makeup and a lot of personal items.

Dr. Swartz of the Health Department says good hygiene, and lots of hand washing, are the first and best defenses against the disease.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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