Resistant Staph Bug Alarms Nevada Health Workers

State health officials want cases of a dangerous staph infection reported to Nevada's health division.

A study warns that deaths linked to Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, could exceed those caused by AIDS.

More than 90,000 Americans get the potentially deadly infections each year. However, incidents of the drug-resistant germ do not have to be reported to the Nevada State Health Division. Eighteen states currently require notification.

"Reporting it will be of value for the public will see the impact of timely intervention," said Dr. Ihsan Azzam, Nevada state epidemiologist. "Catching it early improves your chances to prevent it more efficiently, less costly and in a timely manner. In my opinion, most of the communicable diseases are preventable."

Dr. Steven Althoff said he would not change his advice to parents to prevent the germ that has been around for thousands of years - wash your hands.

"I've seen probably at least a fivefold increase in cases over the last year," Althoff said. "It is super important to stress that while there is a lot of hype about this, staph has been a plague for thousands of years. This is just a special flavor of it that has drug resistance."

Dr. F. Kevin Murphy, a Reno infectious disease specialist, said MRSA has become a "greater and greater problem." He said he had no cases six years ago.

"Now I probably get calls from physicians on how to diagnose or manage MRSA infections once a week," he said. "I get called to the emergency room probably once a month."

The hospital-acquired and community-acquired germs are genetically and clinically different organisms, he said. Murphy, who has been in practice for 30 years, said that what is distinctive about the community-acquired bug is that it produces a toxin that causes tissue death. Some people catch a pneumonia that is very difficult to treat. "There really are some really critical differences," he said.

Because there are two other organisms, pseudomonas and acinetobacter, Murphy said are a "bigger threat" than MRSA, he wants a broader reporting plan instituted by the state health department.

"The (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) should sit down, look at it and decide what kind of national surveillance is appropriate," he said. "I think it's important to refocus on resistance as opposed to a specific organism."

Updating the Nevada State Health Division's list of reportable diseases and conditions is a long, difficult and costly process, Izzam said.

To make the process as easy as possible, he said he is exploring electronic laboratory reporting.

"I don't want the burden to really be on the provider," he said.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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