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Published: Wednesday, 10/24/2007

Drug-resistant bacteria becoming more common

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Bill Murray of Lambertville says his first symptoms of having a drug-resistant germ developed near his right eye. Bill Murray of Lambertville says his first symptoms of having a drug-resistant germ developed near his right eye.
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At first, Bill Murray thought the bump near his right eye was a pimple.

A few weeks later - after the Lambertville man's eye swelled shut - he spent four days in May in St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center.

After he had two more outbreaks in the following weeks, Mr. Murray found out what was wrong: He had a bacteria resistant to many antibiotics known as MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

"It's a very ugly bug, and it travels fast," said the 42-year-old mechanical contractor.

Mr. Murray, who contends he was misdiagnosed at St. Vincent as having an insect bite, said he received appropriate antibiotics from his family doctor to treat his virulent staph infection.

St. Vincent officials declined to comment on Mr. Murray's case, citing federal privacy laws.

Mr. Murray has learned of four other people who were diagnosed with MRSA, and now he's trying to get the word out that MRSA is more common in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan than most realize.

Neither Ohio nor Michigan tracks MRSA cases unless they involve outbreaks, typically at hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, or schools.

Fifteen high school students in Lucas County, for example, contracted MRSA two years ago at illegal tattoo parties, said Dr. David Grossman, commissioner of the Toledo-Lucas County health department.

MRSA is more common because staph bacteria has evolved, becoming tougher and immune to some antibiotics, said Dr. Randy King, director of the emergency medicine residency program at St. Vincent.

Staph has become increasingly unaffected by methicillin, just as it became almost entirely resistant to penicillin long ago, but other antibiotics will be developed, Dr. Grossman said.

More people are seeking emergency room treatment at St. Vincent for skin infections, abscesses, and boils from staph - and more than half have MRSA, Dr. King said.

"We are seeing more occurrence of skin infections now than 15 to 20 years ago because the bacteria is a little more aggressive," he said.

One Elida High School football player was treated for what turned out to be MRSA after a trainer noticed a red mark on his back last week. And another was treated for a staph infection that had not been confirmed by yesterday as the antiobiotic-resistant strain, said Don Diglia, superintendent of Elida Local Schools in Allen County.

In Wood County, 20 to 25 Elmwood High School students and some family members all appear to have staph infections.

But the outbreak that started among football players in late summer is responding to front-line antibiotics and does not appear to be MRSA, said Pat Snyder, public information officer with the Wood County health department.

Last week, a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that MRSA infections in hospitals and nursing homes may be twice as common as previously thought. An estimated 18,650 patients nationwide died from MRSA in 2005, the study said.

Also last week, a Virginia high school student died from MRSA after struggling with it for a week, causing further concern about the bacteria nationwide.

MRSA first cropped up in the 1980s, and people can protect themselves by maintaining good hygiene, covering open wounds, and not sharing items such as towels and razors, said Brenda Dubilzig, infection control practitioner for ProMedica Health System.

People also should make sure they finish taking antibiotics for as long as prescribed - even if they are feeling better, Ms. Dubilzig said.

Otherwise, not all of the bacteria is killed off, aiding resistance, she added.

So far this year, Ohio has had 13 reported outbreaks of MRSA, including 37 cases at a corrections facility in Cuyahoga County, according to the Ohio Department of Health. There were 17 outbreaks reported last year, it said.

In Michigan, 15 outbreaks of MRSA have been reported to the Department of Community Health, down from 52 for all of last year. But recent reports of staph infections in school districts near Grand Rapids, Mich., and in the Detroit area may boost that number.

Mr. Murray said he doesn't know how he got MRSA, but he wants people to be more cautious about sores that appear to be bug bites and more vigilant about hygiene.

"Anyone can get it, and it's a nasty bug to have," he said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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