Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), pictured to the right, doesn't look particularly menacing. But don't be deceived. In recent years, the number of people in the U.S. who died from MRSA surpassed those who died from AIDS.
In a podcast posted today on Boing Boing, Maryn McKenna, author of the popular read Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA, talks about what makes this form of staph bacteria so lethal and the challenges involved in treating MRSA infections. As McKenna explains, the danger of the bug and difficulties in treating it have to do with how MRSA evolved:
The micro-answer is that MRSA (a lot of people just say "mersa") is a form of staph bacteria that have become resistant to almost all of the antibiotics that we use in medicine every day. It's been doing that over about 60 years, largely without our really noticing or understanding how big a threat it has become. It's a threat to people who are in hospitals, but in recent years it's also become a threat to people out in the everyday world. It kind of takes people by surprise. It often affects, for instance, people in gyms or kids who play sports.
The macro-answer is that MRSA is the leading edge of a really international epidemic of drug-resistant organisms that are getting worse and worse, both because they're getting more resistant and also because we've, for the most part, stopped making antibiotics. So as the bugs get more resistant, were running out of ways to treat them, because there's no new drug coming along. And as if that weren't all bad enough, it takes in not just human medicine and how we use drugs there, but also increasingly how we use and misuse drugs in farming around the world.
The entire interview is worth listening to, and the end - where McKenna discusses prevention tactics recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - is particularly interesting.