Judson Haims: New form of staph infection becoming more prevalent

Judson Haims
Special to The Aspen Times

I first learned of MRSA infections a few years ago when two clients in different counties had become ill complaining of fatigue, shortness of breath and chills. Their primary medical providers had no specific answers.

It was not until one patient’s ailments became so severe that they visited the hospital and had been diagnosed with MRSA that we mentioned the occurrence to the other’s medical providers.

While we thought it was a shot in the dark, we asked if it was possible that they too might have contracted it. After a visit to their medical provider, we were informed that they too had contracted it.

Since then, a friend shared with me that they had contracted MRSA after a knee replacement and had to have the prosthetic removed until the infection cleared. Last month, after returning from a facility in the Front Range one of our clients shared with us their experience with contracting MRSA.

MRSA can occur within a medical facility or because of an arbitrary scratch or break in the skin. Learning about the signs and symptoms may not only help yourself but may also help you identify symptoms in people you love and care about.

MRSA is short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. It is a serious global health care problem and is more prevalent in the community than you might think. In fact, many people carry the organism but never know they have it because they don’t have symptoms. Anyone can get MRSA.

MRSA is a potentially dangerous type of staph bacteria that is resistant to certain antibiotics such as penicillin and amoxicillin. Normally, non-serious cases of MRSA are found in the communities in which we live. Most often, such cases present themselves as infections that may have occurred from broken skin, such as a cut or scrape.

More severe or potentially life-threatening MRSA infections occur most frequently among patients in hospitals or other inpatient settings and are commonly seen in bloodstream infections or surgical site infections. Approximately 5 percent of patients in U.S. hospitals carry MRSA in their nose or on their skin about one out of every three people are carriers.

Within the hospital environment, the most contaminated surfaces are often bed tables, bed rails, other flat surfaces, bed linens and patient gowns. However, health care facilities can mitigate cross-contamination by being particularly vigilant in controlling them with the use of hospital-grade disinfectants and sanitizers that are rated to kill 99.999 percent of microorganisms and bacteria.

How can I catch it?

You can get MRSA through direct skin to skin contact with an infected person or by sharing personal items such as towels or razors that have touched the infected skin.

Outside of hospitals or inpatient settings, there is little risk of transmitting MRSA; therefore, most healthy people are at a lower risk of becoming infected.

Is it treatable?

Yes, MRSA is treated with a different group of antibiotics that are not resistant to staph. When treated with antibiotics the risk of spreading MRSA is very low; so if a client has been treated, the risk of spreading to the caregiver is very low.

How do I care for someone with MRSA?

In the home, the following precautions should be followed:

• Wash your hands with soap and water after physical contact with the infected person and before leaving the home.

• Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed.

• Towels used for drying hands after contact should be used only once. Use paper towels and dispose in the trash after use. MRSA can survive on most towels for as long as a couple of weeks or more.

• Disposable gloves should be worn if contact with body fluids is expected, and hands should be washed after removing the gloves.

• Linens should be changed and washed using the hottest temperatures on a routine basis.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. He can be reached at or 970-328-5526.