Bird flu pandemics and mad cow disease may be dominating the headlines, but my personal fear is that staph infections are on their way to being the next big killer to strike the Western world.
I first came across staph infections when my husband and sister both faced the infections one summer. My husband lived with few problems. My sister lost her leg. The difference? Treatment. Here’s an article that explains a little about staph infections and what to do when a loved one is diagnosed. The Centers for Disease Control estimates 30 percent of the population has a staph infection. This rate is only bound to increase because the infection stays…it never leaves your body.
The disease is actually called methicillin-resistant Staphylococuus aureus and it’s also called MRSA (pronounced “mersa,” not by the initials). Staph infections are contagious and the real danger comes from the fact that this strain is resistant to most medicine. Strong antibiotics taken over a long period of time are the only treatment and, unfortunately, they do not always work. Within my small circle of friends, two or three people have lost loved ones to staph infections. My husband almost died and my sister lost her leg. The difference? My husband was treated by doctors who didn’t dodge blame and aggressively fought the disease.
Small town doctors are not accustomed, even now, to recognizing and treating staph. Usually, it develops after a serious illness or surgery. Contrary to what most health care professionals will tell you, AMA research has determined that Staph infections almost always develop inside the hospital -specifically inside the surgery room. The Centers for Disease Control estimates only 12 percent of staph infections generates outside this supposedly sterile environment.
Symptoms are very high fever, swollen and red areas. My husband, for example, saw a simple surgery scar grow into a basketball-sized knot within a few days. The skin was fire-truck red and felt like leather. My sister had a series of large infections along her surgical scar. Again, she had an extraordinarily high fever (104 degrees) and a cause could not be pinpointed.
So, what should you do when a loved one is diagnosed with Staph?
First, insist on seeing an infectious disease control specialist, even if it means moving the patient to another town. In the cases I’ve known, this has made the difference in survival. A family doctor and a surgeon are not trained to treat this disease. Worse, the mere word “mersa” rightfully scares many healthcare workers and can the diagnosis can even reduce the quality of care your loved one receives. Sad, but true. If your family doctor insists an infectious disease is not needed, get another one. The life of your loved one depends on it.
Second, don’t be scared by the universal precautions. Universal precautions for mersa are severe compared to those utilized for other diseases. You’ll see nurses wearing gowns, gloves, masks – and they’ll encourage all family members and visitors to do the same. Follow their instructions and take comfort in the fact that your healthcare provider recognizes the seriousness of the disease.
Learn about good hygiene as it relates to the disease. Purell hand sanitizer will become your best friend. Also familiarize yourself with the latest in high-power antibiotics. Vancomiacin is preferred in many circles. And a long-dose could be needed. Be prepared to learn nursing skills from your home health team and follow their instructions closely.
While it’s seldom spread outside the hospital, do make sure all of your family is familiar with the needed hygiene. Buy rubber gloves in volume and clean, clean, clean. All of this could make the patient a little paranoid. Asssure the patient that it’s not his/her fault.
The cases I’ve witnessed have taken about six months to run their course and allow a patient to return to a normal life.