MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and is pronounced “mursa”. MRSA has been especially common in hospital settings (termed Hospital Acquired or HA-MRSA) for many years, and continues to be on the rise. However, over the past few years, a growing number of otherwise healthy individuals who have not been hospitalized are acquiring community associated (termed Community Associated or CA-MRSA) strains of staph. In fact, CA-MRSA infections have been reported worldwide, and are of epidemic proportions in the United States.
These strains of staph have developed resistance to certain antibiotics and, therefore, can be more difficult to treat. In the case of MRSA, these strains are resistant to all antibiotics in the beta-lactam (penicillin) class. Therefore, an antibiotic from another class will be chosen. Vancomycin is often used alone or in combination with other antibiotics to treat MRSA; however, recently vancomycin-resistant strains have also been observed.
In addition to common sense hygiene, the overuse of antibiotics over many years has resulted in an ever growing population of antibiotic resistant bacteria, such as MRSA. Antibiotics are often misused by individuals who take them for things like colds, which are caused by viruses, not bacteria. Additionally, many individuals who do need an antibiotic to overcome a bacterial infection may not take the antibiotics properly, or may not finish a full prescription even when directed to do so by their physician. These examples of overuse and misuse of antibiotics have resulted in strains of bacteria, such as MRSA, that often require lengthy treatment with new antibiotics or combinations of antibiotics. These new drugs or combinations of drugs are often more expensive and more toxic than older antibiotics. In some instances, bacteria have become resistant to all available antibiotics – essentially returning us to the pre-antibiotic era of the 1930s, when people routinely succumbed to routine bacterial infections. This is why it is important for us to study staphylococci and practice antimicrobial stewardship, so we have a better understanding of how this organism causes disease and so we are better equipped to fight staphylococcal disease. This is what the UNMC Center for Staphylococcal Research is all about.