Community-acquired infection rising in Tahoe area
September 4, 2008
TRUCKEE ” Cases of infections caused by an antibiotic-resistant bacteria are increasing in the region, although in contradiction to a national surge, most local cases are occurring in communal areas outside hospitals.
The methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly referred to as MRSA, is a type of skin infection that typically resembles a pimple or spider bite, but can quickly transform into abscesses that requires surgical draining, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The superbug has become the subject of nationwide concern during the last few years as hospital-acquired cases have increased sharply in urban surgical centers, but physicians say the community-aquired infection is most prevalent.
Tahoe Forest Hospital officials say aggressive sanitation procedures have kept hospital-acquired staph rates below 1 percent compared to the national benchmark of 5 percent, but local physicians say the community-acquired infection is increasing the fastest.
“It’s a new infection that is increasing in incidents,” said Dr. Paul Krause, a family physician with the Truckee Tahoe Medical Group.
The group holds medical offices in both Truckee and Tahoe City, and Krause said physicians treat two to three patients a week who have contracted MRSA.
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“Many of the people we diagnose do not even know they have it,” Krause said. “It’s commonly mistaken for a spider bite or mosquito bite.”
Infections range from mild to serious and can be life-threatening, according to a Nevada County Public Health Department document.
The bug is spread through skin-to-skin contact or through indirect contact, such as touching a surface where the bacteria exists, said Chris Spencer, director of the health clinic and infection control program at Tahoe Forest Hospital.
“While jails, gyms, hospitals and IVDU’s [intravenous drug use] have been identified as possibly higher risk environments and practices, most often we have no idea where the infection came from,” Spencer said. “Our gym has disinfectant available for clients to use before and after equipment use.”
Symptoms vary depending on the location of the infection, but common conditions include red, painful bumps under the skin, called boils or abscesses, a cut that is swollen and filled with pus or a blister filled with fluid, Krause said.
In some cases, antibiotics are not necessary to treat the infection and some staph infections do not respond to certain drugs, so testing for MRSA and seeking proper medical treatment is recommended, Krause said.
“We don’t have all the answers about the disease because it is still being addressed and researched,” Krause said. “The best thing people can do is wash their hands frequently.”