"Imagine a small boil appearing suddenly on your leg. It's red, irritated and looks like it may have a bit of fluid in it. You think it's probably nothing more than a spider bite or something similar," said Ephraim McDowell Health in a press release.
"McDowell Health wants you to understand that there's a slight possibility that it could be something life-threatening, if medical care is not sought."
MRSA is a staph infection that has developed a strong resistance to certain types of common antibiotics, including methicillin, penicillin and amoxicillin. An invasive form of the disease is being blamed for the death Monday of a 17-year-old Virginia high school senior. Doctors said the germ had spread to his kidneys, liver, lungs and muscles around his heart.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that 2005 surveillance data collected by medical researchers in nine mostly urban regions considered representative of the country showed there were 5,287 invasive infections reported that year in people living in those regions, which would translate to an estimated 94,360 cases nationally.
According to the CDC, approximately 25 to 30 percent of individuals carry MRSA in their nose without it ever causing an infection, Nickens said. Staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infections in the United States, he said.
Nickens said that while staph infections have traditionally been acquired by individuals in a health-care facility, "We are seeing more instances where staph infections are being acquired outside of hospitals and health-care facilities.
"Many times, these skin infections are minor, such as pimples and boils," Nickens said. "However, they can also cause serious infections, such as surgical wound infections, bloodstream infections and pneumonia."
According to the CDC, factors that have been associated with the spread of MRSA skin infections include close skin-to-skin contact, cuts or abrasions on the skin, contaminated items and surfaces, crowded living conditions and poor hygiene.
Nickens pointed out that antibiotics are losing their effectiveness against some bacteria for a number of reasons. One is that some antibiotics are being over-prescribed, especially for infections that often don't exist or could be treated without the use of medications. Another is that patients are not taking prescribed medications properly or they are not completing the prescribed dosage.
McDowell has implemented a new surgery preparation system to help reduce patients' risk of infection at surgical sites, Nickens said. The system was implemented in May and involves the patient in the surgery preparation process.
"We want to provide our surgery patients with the best possible outcome with the least risk of complications," said Byron Underwood, director of surgical services at the hospital. "This new surgery preparation system is geared toward preparing the patient's skin before surgery to reduce the risk of infection at the surgical site."
According to the CDC, surgical site infections are the leading hospital-acquired infection and the third most common hospital-acquired infection for surgery patients.
"Patients are increasingly carrying harmful and potentially resistant bacteria on their skin, so preparing the skin with an antiseptic before their surgery can help lower the risk for surgical site infections," Underwood said.
Patients are asked to shower or bathe with the moistened antiseptic brushes the night before their surgery, gently washing their body and focusing the scrub for three minutes on the area where the surgery will be located.
On the morning of their surgery, the surgical area is again scrubbed another three minutes using a disposable cloth containing the antiseptic - on a larger area around the surgical site.
"Individuals have bacteria present on their body, and if these bacteria are introduced into their surgical wound, it could cause health problems," said Tammy Godbey, a surgical nurse who counsels patients before their surgery. "These antiseptic cloths and brushes are designed to kill the harmful bacteria on a patient's skin."