Sunday, October 28, 2007
MRSA- it's tiny microbes
With all of the continued interest in MRSA (methacillin resistant staph aureus), it is a good time to remember just how bacteria work. According to author Bill Bryson..."if you are in good health and averagely diligent about hygiene, you will have a herd of about one trillion bacteria grazing on your fleshy plains-about a hundred thousand of them on every square centimeter of skin. You are for them the ultimate food court, with the convenience of warmth and constant mobility thrown in. By the way of thanks, they give you B.O."
Trillions of Staph Aureus microbes live on your skin and in your nasal passages. These bacteria are not harmful, and in fact, we depend upon them, living in harmony with other bacteria to keep our bodies and our planet in check. We think because we have invented antibiotics and disinfectants, that we can wipe out bacteria. What we have done, however, is just allowed them to evolve into another type that is resistant to our drugs and become penicillin (methacillin) resistant.
Your body's natural defense system will try to keep bacteria from hurting you. Millions of white blood cells are designed to identify and destroy a particular sort of invader. When the bacteria (or virus) obtains entry through catheter or a break in the skin they can invade another part of your body where they shouldn't be. Your white cell scouts call for reinforcements and the white cells, like little soldiers, come marching in to deactivate the bacteria.
Getting "sick" is a sensible response to infection. Sick people go to bed and are less likely to spread infection to others. When you rest, your body's cells can focus on the infection.
The phone call I hate the most is a patient who says, "I feel like I'm getting sick and I need antibiotics because I just can't be sick because I am getting on an airplane and I have to go to New York because I have a very important meeting and I just can't be sick."
Come on! You have to give your body a fighting chance because the microbes do become resistant to antibiotics (witness MRSA) and a stressed, tired body just can't mount the defence against infection. We would have been much more successful with bacteria if we saved our best weapon against them - antibiotics- for serious infections.
Our best defense against MRSA is good handwashing and alcohol wipes on surfaces. In a hospital, where patient's immune systems are down, it is critical for caregivers to wash hands between patients and to replace catheters using established infection control protocols.
Again, to quote Bill Bryson in the must read book, "A Short History of Nearly Everything", "It is worth remembering that most microorganisms are neutral or even beneficial to human well-being." We need to help our own natural defenses by resting when we are ill, and save antibiotics for the serious infections.
Posted by Toni Brayer, MD at 8:59 AM