Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is a disease threat of the modern age. Up until the advent of penicillin, the first antibiotic that was safe for use in humans, humanity was at the mercy of bacterial infections that could cause serious disease and even wipe out whole populations of people if there was a particularly bad outbreak. Antibiotics then made it possible to treat bacterial infections and control disease epidemics. For example, the sexually transmitted infection syphilis used to be one of the primary causes of insanity, because there was no cure for those who contracted the infection and it frequently progressed to the point to which the central nervous system was damaged.
Now, the infection can be completely cured with a course of antibiotics and neurosyphilis is a rare occurrence in the developed world. While we now have a whole spectrum of antibiotics that can kill a wide variety of pathogenic bacteria, the frequent use of these medications coupled with the adaptive ability of life on Earth is causing the emergence of new disease threats.
Regular Staph Infection
Staphylococcus aureus is a common species of Gram-positive bacterium that is found on the skin of about a fifth of the human population. Most of the time, S. aureus colonization causes no harm to the person who is carrying the bacterium. The most common type of infection that Staph aureus causes is a minor skin infection, which can take the form of a rash, cellulitis, pimples, boils or more serious abscesses. In rare cases, Staph aureus can spread to other areas of the body and cause more serious infections.
If S. aureus infects the blood, a person may experience septic shock, which causes a dangerous dip in blood pressure and swelling of the airways. S. aureus can also affect the vital organs, such as the heart, and cause dangerous inflammation that may affect the function of the organ. The good news is that when S. aureus infections are treated early, they are easily cleared up by antibiotics.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is simply a strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria that has undergone one or more mutations that make it able to evade the actions of a certain class of antibiotics. MRSA produces an enzyme that cleaves part of the chemical structure of these antibiotics. Like S. aureus, MRSA usually causes a minor skin infection, but it can progress to a more serious form of the disease if it is left untreated. MRSA infections are usually acquired in hospitals and group care facilities where people live in close quarters, but some forms of MRSA can be contracted from the outside community. MRSA is more common in hospitals because the crowded population and the frequent use of antibiotics there are the perfect conditions for developing bacterial antibiotic resistance.
Staphylococcus aureus and MRSA are the same species of bacterium, but one strain is susceptible to a class of antibiotics and the other is not. There are still some antibiotics that will work against MRSA infections, so MRSA is still a curable infection, especially if it is treated in the early stages.
It is just more difficult to treat MRSA than a regular Staph infection, and the antibiotics that must be used have more potential unpleasant side effects. There is also the threat that highly-adaptive MRSA strains will continue to evolve new antibiotic resistances over time and become more and more difficult to treat.