NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 17, 2006

A once-rare drug-resistant germ appears to cause more than half of all skin infections treated in U.S. emergency rooms, researchers say.

  • Many victims mistakenly thought they just had spider bites that wouldn't heal, not drug-resistant staph bacteria. 
  • Only a decade ago, these germs were hardly ever seen outside of hospitals and nursing homes.
  • Doctors also were caught off-guard -- most of them unwittingly prescribed medicines that do not work against the bacteria.

Researchers analyzed all skin infections among adults who went to hospital emergency rooms in 11 U.S. cities in August 2004.  The proportion of infections due to drug-resistant staph ranged from 15 percent to as high as 74 percent in some hospitals.

  • Skin infections can be life-threatening if bacteria get into the bloodstream; drug-resistant strains can also cause a vicious type of pneumonia and even ''flesh-eating'' wounds.
  • The germ typically thrives in medical settings where people have open wounds and tubes.
  • But in recent years, outbreaks have occurred among prisoners, children and athletes, with the germ spreading through skin contact or shared items such as towels.
  • Dozens of people in Ohio, Kentucky and Vermont recently got infections from tattoos.

The good news: drug-resistant staph infections contracted outside a hospital are easier to treat.

The study found that several antibiotics work against them, including some sulfa drugs that have been around for decades.  However, doctors need to test skin infections to see what germ is causing them, say the researchers.

Source: Marilynn Marchione, "Drug-resistant germ on the rise," Associated Press/Chicago Sun-Times, August 17, 2006; based upon: Gregory J. Moran et al., "Methicillin-Resistant S. aureus Infections among Patients in the Emergency Department," New England Journal of Medicine, vol 355, number 7, August 17, 2006.

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