There has been extensive news coverage lately about the incidence of an extremely drug resistant form of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also know as MRSA. In fact, recent reports include those of deaths related to MRSA.
MRSA is caused by bacteria that exist on the skin. Estimates are that over 89 million Americans are hosts to colonies of the bacteria. The bacteria enter through wounds or scrapes in the skin and into the bloodstream. For most healthy people the symptoms are generally mild and they fully recover. In the past nearly all of the infections were acquired in hospitals since patients may have open wounds and weakened immune systems. However, there have been an increasing number of cases that originate elsewhere, such as schools and gyms.
Symptoms can include respiratory and urinary tract infections, rashes and pus producing skin abscesses. Severe infections can also lead to septic arthritis. This happens when the infection invades the synovial fluid surrounding the joint and damages the cartilage. About half of the cases of septic arthritis are caused by Staphylococcus aureus, the MRSA bacteria. In bacterial infections the knee is the most common target and usually only one joint is affected. It is possible, however, to have infections attack the ankle, hip, wrist, elbow and shoulder and may occur in more than one joint at time. Treatments include antibiotics, which if used early enough are still effective, fluid drainage and surgery. The best treatment, as is usually the case, is prevention. Good hygiene practices, including frequent had washing, is still the best medicine.