Breaking Down Staph

OCTOBER 22, 2006 -- POSTED AT 5:30 P.M. CDT

JONESBORO, AR -- As we saw last week with the shut down of the Westside School District, the number of staph infections are on the rise. We spoke with a local infectious disease specialist to discuss this particular strain of staph that's infecting the locals.

In late 2003, local medical personnel realized they were dealing with a continuous staph outbreak in this area. After last week's outbreak of staph infections at Westside, many are wondering, what exactly is staph?

"What we have in Northeast Arkansas and what most likely was the cause of the infections at Westside was Community Acquired MRSA," says Dr. Carl Abraham, an infectious disease physician.

MRSA is a form of staph infection that is resistant to many commonly-used antibiotics and of all the different strands of staph; Community Acquired MRSA is the most contagious.

"We think that about 20 percent of people in our area have MRSA on their skin or up their noses. Not causing any problem walking around and it's transmitted through touch," says Abraham.

Those 20 percent are just carriers, but when the skin is punctured or broken, staph bacteria can enter the wound, causing an infection. Dr. Abraham says staph is often misunderstood in the sense that only sick people get infected with the bacteria. He says that's not true, as proved from the children infected at Westside.

"Anybody is at risk. We see healthy people with this, we see people who are ill with this, but it is not an illness of ill people," says Abraham.

The carriers can easily pass on the bacteria and from there, it's a chain effect. But what are the signs?

"Very quickly it can become an infection out of control and that infection usually starts as the pimple getting bigger or an area of redness around the pimple that spreads," says Abraham.

However, there are a few tips you can remember to protect yourself.

-Wash your hands often

-Cover all wounds with clean bandages

-Avoid sharing personal items, such as razors, combs, lotions, or equipment

-If needed, early recognition and proper medical treatment can be critical when trying to control the dangerous infection