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Friday, April 12, 2024

Antibiotic-resistant 'superbug' hospitalizations increase dramatically

The number of people hospitalized with a potentially deadly strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria increased 220 percent over six years, according to a study co-authored by a UF scientist.

The study reported that 127,000 people were hospitalized with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, in 1999. The number soared to 280,000 in 2005.

In most instances, MRSA starts as a skin infection, which is usually not life threatening. But if the bacteria enter the blood stream, the infection can become more serious and possibly lethal.

David Smith, a professor in the UF department of zoology and the Emerging Pathogens Institute said the study is the first to analyze trends in hospitalization due to MRSA.

"MRSA is out of control. Our numbers suggest that Staph and MRSA infections should become a national-research and public-health priority," he said in a UF news release.

MRSA, known sometimes as the "superbug," is resistant to all but the most potent antibiotics. In some cases, the infection is able to repel vancomycin, one of the "last resort" antibiotics on the market.

MRSA has been an emerging threat to people working in hospitals and health care facilities since the early 1990s. However, the new study revealed a shifting pattern toward MRSA infections spreading in the general community.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 18,650 deaths in the United States from serious, "invasive" MRSA infections in 2005.

Dr. Frederick Southwick, professor and chief of infectious diseases in the UF College of Medicine, hopes the study brings more awareness to the importance of fighting MRSA.

"This kind of (research) is very powerful and can help change policy. There needs to be more money invested in how to prevent the spread of this organism," he said.

Tom Belcuore, director of the Alachua County Health Department, said although instances of MRSA have occurred in Gainesville, the department does not consider it an epidemic.

Belcuore said outbreaks of MRSA in Gainesville high schools were frequently related to students with sports-related scrapes and injuries.

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Transmission of MRSA is common through contact with an open wound, he added.

"Through wound maintenance and wound care, the spread of MRSA can be slowed," Belcuore said. "Any place where you have people crowded together, the bacteria can thrive."

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