Antibiotic-resistant infection blamed for girl's death
Scrubbing best way to swat superbug
Wash, wash, wash your hands – that's the most effective way to avoid catching or spreading the superbug, which recently killed a young girl in Nunavut.
MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, can lead to pimples, rashes, nasty boils or severe and potentially lethal secondary infections such as pneumonia and flesh-eating disease.
Dr. Isaac Sobol, Nunavut's chief medical officer, who recently returned from Arviat, would not confirm any deaths due to MRSA in the community. But a reliable source told Nunatsiaq News that the superbug had killed a girl somewhere in Nunavut.
Sobol did say there are "several" other cases of MRSA in Nunavut, in various communities, although he did not want to say which ones.
First detected in 1961 in the United Kingdom, MRSA has been widespread in Canadian hospitals since 1981. Community-acquired MRSA has also cropped up in aboriginal communities in the prairies over the past decade.
Sobol said a couple of Nunavut's MRSA cases have been linked to infection from hospital stays. However, MRSA has also struck Nunavummiut who have never been to a hospital.
In communities, most of the transmission appears to be from people with active MRSA skin infections.
Studies show First Nations and Inuit are six times more likely to get MRSA at home because MRSA spreads easily in overcrowded living situations.
MRSA can be spread by direct contact such as kissing, sneezing or indirect contact, such as touching a surface an infected person has touched.
Sobol said Nunavut is taking steps to contain MRSA in the affected communities. He's prepared to ask stores in Nunavut to stock and promote the sale of hand sanitizers at reasonable prices.
But containing the spread of MRSA may be difficult, Sobol admitted, in places such as Arviat where there is acute overcrowding in most homes.
Sobol recommends everyone should wash their hands frequently, keep cuts clean and avoid sharing personal items such as toothbrushes and towels- "but this isn't easy to do in a house with 14 people."
MRSA most commonly enters the body through the nostrils.
MRSA infections don't generally show up in healthy individuals and may last from a few weeks to many years to surface.
But unhealthy patients are at more risk of secondary infections.
To prevent and treat possible MRSA-related infections, Sobol has advised Nunavut's doctors and nurses not to over-prescribe antibiotics, because repeated use of antibiotics allows infections to become resistant to the drugs. At the same time, over-use of antibiotics leaves people more susceptible to MRSA infection.
Sobol said he wants to get the message out for patients not to expect to receive antibiotic prescriptions unless they're absolutely necessary.
Raw honey dressings have been successfully used for prevention and treatment of MRSA, and it's also been reported that maggots are effective in treating an MRSA infection.
But preventing MRSA is much easier than curing it because even the strongest antibiotics sometimes have no effect.
To see whether someone has MRSA, health workers test secretions from the nose. To prevent the spread of MRSA in hospitals or clinics, public health officials recommend health workers adopt strict hygiene measures.
Apart from the difficulty in preventing or treating MRSA, prevention and care also adds thousands of dollars to government health budgets. A Quebec study found it cost $16 million to treat 579 cases in Quebec in 2003.
Dr. Jean-Francois Proulx from Nunavik's public health said there have been some MRSA cases among Nunavimmiut, but all were due to hospital-acquired infection.