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MRSA: Is Antibiotic Resistant Staph Lurking At Your Gym?

Posted Sep 26 2008 3:21pm 1 Comment

MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, killed more people last year than the AIDS virus. Find out the symptoms and treatment of MRSA infection and how to protect yourself at the gym from this “super bug.”

It’s silent, invisible and potentially deadly.

And it could be hiding out at your gym, health club or local fitness center.

It’s known as MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (also called “staph”) and it has public health officials Image of Staphylococcus aureus bacterium, which can cause MRSA worried.  Once limited to people with compromised immune systems and people in health care facilities like hospitals, nursing homes and dialysis facilities, epidemiologists have grown increasingly concerned about a new phenomenon: MRSA that has spread outside of health care facilities and seems to infect normally healthy individuals.

Of particular concern is whether MRSA can be spread on surfaces in common shared facilities like public restrooms, schools, dorm rooms and yes … gyms.

What Is MRSA and Why Is It So Dangerous?

So what exactly is MRSA?

MRSA is what’s often referred to in the media as a “super-bug” — a strain of bacteria that can resist the effects of antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria have become increasingly common over the past several decades. While some mutations that result in antibiotic resistance happen as part of natural cell reproduction,  there is increasing evidence that over-prescription or improper use of antibiotics has accelerated the development of “super bugs.” Indeed, researchers believe that the development of the MRSA bacteria likely was accelerated by overuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics. 

It’s important to understand that  Staphylococcus aureus  is a common micro-organism that is typically present in the nose and on the skin of one third of all people. 

There mere presence of the bacterium does not ensure infection, and in many cases, people come in contact with Staphylococcus aureus on a daily basis.

About 20% of people are long-term carriers of Staphylococcus aureus and may show no symptoms. However, if infection does takes hold it can result in everything from mild skin infections like pimples or impetigo, to more serious conditions like pneumonia, meningitis, Toxic shock syndrome (TSS), or septicemia.  Staphylococcus aureus is one of the leading causes of post surgical wound infection in hospitals.

The problem with Staphylococcus aureus is that it’s particularly adaptable to antibiotics. In fact, it was the first bacteria to be found to be penicillin-resistant.  It showed resistant to penicillin in 1947 — a mere four years after penicillin became widely available. Since then, the bacterium has continued to evolve resistance to each new class of  antibiotics — most recently Methicillin.  

Cases of Staph MRSA Growing: MRSA Statistics and Facts

The statistics around MRSA are sobering.

A 2007 study from  US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, estimates than cases of MRSA treated in hospitals had more more than doubled in the past six years, from 127,000 in 1999 to 278,000 in 2005, and deaths increased from 11,000 to 17,000.

Even more alarming to health care professionals in the emergence of something known as CA-MRSA (Community-Acquired MRSA) which is spread not in healthcare facilities among the immuno-compromised, but within larger communities of otherwise healthy individuals, including within correctional facilities, newborn nurseries, among military recruits, and even athletic teams.

This has focused additional attention around whether gym equipment and surfaces in fitness and health centers are providing a perfect environment for breeding and spreading MRSA among otherwise healthy individuals.

But how much of a risk is MRSA to the average gym-goer and fitness buff? And should you really be worried?

(more…)

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