The abbreviation stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Staphylococcus aureus is a common bacteria that is better known as "staph". It is not deadly and is treatable by many different types of antibiotics. With MRSA, it is the "methicillin-resistant" part of the name that is troubling. Essentially, it means that a strain of the staph bacteria has developed that is resistant to methicillin antibiotics, which are essentially all the usual antibiotics used to treat staph. Whereas staph infection kills almost nobody, MRSA kills over 19,000 people a year.
The question for most people is how did come to be?
Every living organism evolves over time. The staph bacteria are not different. The bacteria are continually killed by MRSA bacteria until a slight variation of it survives. That bacteria then starts replicating and spreading. The big fear, of course, is MRSA reproduction explodes and we are suddenly overwhelmed with a bacteria that thrives in our hospitals and medical care facilities, yet is untreatable for the most part. This is why MRSA is considered a superbug and a potential huge problem. In the view of many people, the MRSA threat did not need to become such a big problem but for one reason - us. How so? We viewed antibiotics as a magical cure for everything. If a little worked well, then a lot must work even better. This led to massive overuse of antibiotics, which sped up the process of staph evolving a resistant strain.
Just how massive was and is the overuse?
Consider the following: Do you realize that the food you eat each day has antibiotics in it? We are specifically talking about the meat. Cows are injected with them as are chickens and anything that is mass produced. The rate of this type of antibiotic use is being increased as genetic manipulation produces animals that are larger, but less able to naturally fight off disease. Perhaps the most maddening part of the problem is the performance of doctors. Simply put, they have acted poorly by prescribing antibiotics for just about everything regardless of whether the treatment was appropriate. For instance, many doctors prescribe antibiotics for the common cold despite the fact antibiotics do nothing to cure it! MRSA is like the horses out of the barn. It is on the loose and there is nothing we can do to put it back in the barn. It is the super bug killer that nobody really wants to talk about, so nobody does until there is a breakout. In an age of terrorism, it is somewhat ironic that the bug that ultimately does the most damage to us is one we created not through some criminal intent, but our own stupidity.