Harvard Men's Health Watch

On call: What to do about a "superbug"

On call

What to do about a "superbug"

Q. Every time I pick up my newspaper, I seem to read about a "superbug" called MRSA. I don't want to be an alarmist, but I want to know how to protect my family.

A. Let's start at the beginning, with a bacterium that's been with humans at least as far back as the classic Greek era. It's named Staphylococcus aureus but it's usually called Staph. aureus or staph. Staph. aureus is where the "SA" in MRSA comes from.

Staph. aureus does not live on animals or in nature. Unfortunately, though, it lives very happily in the human nose. At any one time, in fact, up to 30% of perfectly healthy people carry these germs. In the vast majority of cases, the bugs are harmless. But following a bout of influenza, they can slide down into the lungs to cause pneumonia. They can also spread from nose to hand to skin, where they may cause boils, abscesses, or serious infections of the skin and underlying tissues. Even more ominously, Staph. aureus can invade the bloodstream to cause life-threatening infections. Fortunately, these major infections are much, much less common than simple boils or simple nasal colonization.

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