MRSA is an acronym for Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. But what does this mean? When you break it down, you can see. Starting from the second half of the name, Staphylococcus aureus (or S. aureus) is the scientific name (Genus, species) for a spherical shaped bacteria that is prevalent everywhere, on everyone's body. There is an extremely good article at the Textbook of Bacteriology website that explains the biological characteristics of the bacteria. Methicillin is "a semi synthetic penicillin-related antibiotic, also known as Staphcillin, that once was effective against staphylococci (staph) resistant to penicillin because they produce the enzyme penicillinase (quoted from MedicineNet.com)." Resistant means "Having the capacity to withstand: immune, impervious, insusceptible, proof, resistive, unsusceptible (quoted from Answers.com)." MedicineNet.com goes on to explain Methicillin Resistance: "Rarely used now, Methicillin has been largely superseded by Vancomycin. Over the past 50 years, staph bacteria have become resistant to various antibiotics, including the commonly used penicillin-related antibiotics, including Methicillin. These resistant bacteria are called Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA."
Ok, so what does all of this technical terminology really mean? Antibiotic resistance of any sort boils down to the old saying, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." I had it explained to me by my Aunt Sharon, who has been an RN nearly her whole life, when my husband was sick. When you clean your house, and you use antibacterial products, Lysol, for instance, there is inevitably some bacteria left behind. For instance, if you are wiping down your kitchen, it is impossible to keep every single bacteria on your dishcloth, and off of your countertop. When you are finished, and the kitchen looks clean, you have left behind some bacteria, in the little swipe of water that is left on the countertop, or the side of the cabinet that you touched the dishcloth with as you were taking the cloth back to the sink, or the bacteria that you just pushed to the back of the counter, but did not remove. Of that bacteria, some are bound to have survived the Lysol. Maybe you missed a spot, or maybe the bacteria were just lightly touched by the Lysol. This bacteria is now microscopically laughing at you, saying "Ha ha! You missed me!" This bacteria is now a little tougher, because it survived Lysol, and maybe the next night, when you clean your kitchen again, the same thing happens, except maybe you got him good with the Lysol, and he still survived it. This bacteria can now be considered Lysol-resistant.
Take that example and think about it. Think about washing your hands and body, using antibacterial soap. When you wash your hands after using the bathroom, you grab a quick squirt of antibacterial soap, haphazardly rub it on your hands, foam it up a little, rinse it off, and then you are finished. Most of us who have been through and are familiar with MRSA use a lot better technique than this now, but the rest of the world pretty much does it just like that. Can you imagine what happens to the bacteria on your hands now? You are left with bacteria that is resistant to your antibacterial soap. Oops. Then you go outside, see your neighbor, and shake hands with him. Oops again, now your neighbor has been introduced to your antibacterial soap-resistant bacteria. My aunt told me that she has never used Lysol, or antibacterial soap in her house. We all cringe at the thought of that now, including me, but there is something very important in there somewhere.
Back when our parents were children, somehow they survived without antibacterial soaps. Our world is full of antibacterial-everything now. Plastic toys are made with antibacterials, and even the grocery stores now have antibacterial wipes when you walk in to get a shopping cart so you can wipe down any bacteria on them. This sounds like a great preventative idea, but can you see where the problems lie? I don't know where we go from here, really. When you look at this situation, it seems very bleak, it is a never-ending circle, a catch-22.
So this brings us to the bacteria inside of our bodies. We have all heard over and over, so much that we ourselves have become resistant to the advice: Take all of your antibiotics, until the bottle is gone, even if you are feeling better. I know I am guilty of not taking all of my antibiotics in the past. Are you? Probably. I don't do it anymore though. Using the kitchen example above, you can see what an incomplete course of antibiotics do to the bacteria in your body. What doesn't kill them, makes them stronger.
Another huge problem in creating antibiotic resistance is with people going to the doctor with a virus, and insisting upon a round of antibiotics. Antibiotics are not going to kill a virus. They never have, and they never will. A virus is a completely different organism than a bacterium. Antibiotics kill bacteria, not virii. A virus can make you very sick, but it must run its course, and then it will leave. Occasionally a virus can cause a secondary bacterial infection, such as an ear infection or a sinus infection, and it is at that point, when your doctor has determined that you have a bacterial infection, that antibiotics are required. I know that when you are sick, or your children are sick, that you have the need to do what you can do to help make yourself or your children better. But please, listen to your doctor, and do not insist that they give you antibiotics. Trust your doctors advice, for the health and well-being of your whole community. And doctors, please, do not let your patients bully you into giving them an antibiotic when you know they do not have a bacterial infection. This is wrong, and only you can stop this from happening.
Christina Jones maintains the web sites and community at http://www.mrsaresources.com/ and http://www.superbugwiki.com/ for education and support of MRSA (Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus) patients and provides resources to the community to raise awareness.