October 19, 2007
The latest contagious disease scare raises questions about whether the seriousness of the problem has been magnified by news reports. A student in Bedford County died of the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), but it may be that it was only reported nationally because of recent articles in medical journals. Now there are many reports from other states along the East Coast, but is unclear whether this indicates that the disease is actually spreading or not. Hospitals have been known as a breeding ground for germs for many years, and this outbreak may force some of them to finally open up their records on infectiousness, so that people will know which ones to avoid. (That's the only way the hospitals will ever shape up.) In any case, many schools across the region are being closed while janitors scrub and disinfect floors and exposed surfaces. See Washington Post . In any case, we had all better read up on MRSA and take the necessary precautions when we go out into the public. In a situation like this, ignorance can easily lead to panic. The Centers for Disease Control explains what the bacteria is, and how to avoid catching it. (I put that link on the Red Cross of the Blue Ridge Web site yesterday.) Antimicrobial resistance stems from from the overuse of antibiotics, which allows bacteria to evolve and become immune to standard treatments. In much of Latin America, people can easily obtain antibiotics and other drugs that are only available by prescription in the United States. Doctors are often too expensive, and people get used to self-prescribing with antibiotics, and it is possible that that custom has been brought here by Latin American immigrants.