May 24, 2005

How'd she get that?

Well, I took the child to the doctor yesterday and she seems to think my precious daughter has a staph infection.

"Staph infection?!?!" I say. "How would she get a staph infection?" In my mind, people get staph infections from being in the hospital. Especially if they're post-operative. Staph is everywhere, really. But it needs an entry point into the body, and many times that opportunity is available after surgery in the hospital.

The doctor then explained that she's been seeing a rush of staph infections in kids over the past two weeks that have her confounded. "I've seen more staph in the past two weeks than I saw in the entire previous year," she said.

"Really?" I asked.

"Yes, really."

She said she's considering calling the health department because she's got so much of it. The problem is that they've also been seeing the drug-resistant strain of the bacteria. She took a culture from one of the blisters on my daughter's neck and said she'd start her on antibiotics before they get the results back just to play it safe. Having once been a medical journalist, I'd like to take this opportunity to provide a little background about staph infections.

This is what a staph infection looks like (although, there are several variations of appearance depending on what type of tissue is involved):

My daughter's infection doesn't look this bad. I couldn't find a really good, gross photo, though. I like using the worst scenario type photos for some reason.

Here's a brief description of a staph infection found at:
What is Staphylococcus?

Staphylococcus is group of bacteria, familiarly known as Staph, that can (and do) cause a multitude of diseases. Staph bacteria can cause illness directly by infection (such as in the skin) or indirectly through products they make such as toxins responsible for food poisoning and toxic shock syndrome. The name "Staphylococcus" comes from the Greek staphyle meaning a bunch of grapes + kokkos meaning berry, and that is exactly what Staph look like under the microscope, like a bunch of grape or little round berries. (In technical terms, these are gram-positive, facultative anaerobic, usually unencapsulated cocci.)

What are complications of Staph infections?

Staph infection can be simple and localized, such as with impetigo of the skin. It can, however, become widespread, by infecting the blood. It can thereby seed to various areas of the body. This spreading occurs more commonly in persons with abnormally suppressed immune systems. Scalded skin syndrome is a potentially serious side effect of infection with the Staph (Staphylococcus) bacteria that produces a specific protein which loosens the "cement" holding the various layers of the skin together. This allows blister formation and sloughing of the top layer of skin. If it occurs over large body regions it can be deadly (just like a large surface area of the body having been burned). It is necessary to treat scalded skin syndrome with intravenous antibiotics and to protect the skin from allowing dehydration to occur if large areas peel off. The disease occurs predominantly in children under 5 years of age. It is known formally as Staphyloccoccal scalded skin syndrome and as Ritter disease.

Now, as I mentioned the doctor explained that she's seeing drug-resistant strains of staph in the patients whoare presenting. As you may or may not know, drug resistance is becoming a BIG problem. There are several reasons for this: people don't finish their antibiotics, which doesn't completely get rid of the bacteria but allows them to build resistance; doctors have too often prescribed wide-range antibiotics that affect all bacteria, including those that are not causing infection which allows those bacteria to develop resistance; patients demanding antibiotics when they are suffering from viral infections rather than bacterial infections, meaning people are taking antibiotics when they are not warranted and allowing any present bacteria to build resistance. The best way to combat this problem is to take all your antibiotics when they are prescribed, even if you're feeling better; request a narrow-range antibiotic designed to zero in on the particular bacteria causing infection; and don't ask your doctor to prescribe medication if you're suffering from viral infection. The doctor should know better anyway, but some are apparently willing to write the prescription just to get rid of their annoying patients. Antibiotics have absolutely no effect against viruses, which is what is responsible for things like the common cold and flu. With most viral infections, the only thing you can do is treat the symptoms, not the virus itself. There are anti-viral medications available, I think most of them either keep the virus dormant to lessen its effects on the patient rather than actually killing the virus. Once you're infected with a virus, you've got it forever.

Some researchers also believe the increased use of all our anti-bacterial cleaning products have help increase drug-resitance because they mutate and develop was to survive. Some also believe our increased consumption of beef or chicken that has been treated with antibiotics contributes to drug resistance. And scientists simply cannot develop new antibiotics quickly enough to out pace the bacteria's ability to mutate and strengthen itself.

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