Skin lesions may be caused by staph infection, doctors say

Published 9:55 pm Friday, January 19, 2007

Some doctors and researches believe a type of staph infection is causing skin lesions and sores that have shown up on Katrina-relief volunteers in recent months.

The lesions could be signs of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which has become increasingly common in South Mississippi, said Harris Evans, a doctor of internal medicine in Long Beach.

There are two main strains of MRSA, both of which are resistant to conventional antibiotics. Extremely powerful medications are the only methods of treatment, which usually requires hospitalization. Eventually those medications are going to their effectiveness too, experts say.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The cause of staph infections is a common bacterium that usually lives on the skin or in the nose. The bacterium gets into the body through a cut or medical incision.

Evans said that more relief workers could be complaining of the infections because of the type of work they are doing — building and repairing houses and removing debris, which puts them at risk for cuts or scrapes.

“You’re not going to prevent it,” Evans said in the article. “But, cleanliness is next to godliness and the thing that’s saved more lives than anything else is a bath.”

Mohamed Elasri, assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi, is leading a research team that recently identified a previously unknown gene that can be manipulated in a way to trick staph cells into thinking the time is not right to release toxins.

Evans and Elasri agree that treating all staph infections with powerful drugs from the beginning can be an effective way to combat the disease. The age of the patient can also affect treatment.

“If it’s a young man in good health, they’re more likely to do OK,” he said. “As opposed to someone in his mid-60s; those are the people who bear the brunt of the worst-case scenarios.

Shana Blakeny, a nurse practitioner in the emergency room at Hancock Medical Center, said some patients have had sores large enough to ooze fluid, that is collected and tested in a local lab. She said often the results have shown a staph infection, which can range from a minor skin lesion to life-threatening bloodstream disorders.