Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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MRSA Pictures Showing Symptoms of MRSA Infection"Community acquired" (that is, not acquired in the hospital, which would be "hospital acquired") methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections have not likely come about because germs that have evolved bacterial resistance by residing within hospitals have spread into the community. Rather, this bacterial resistance to methicillin appears to have arisen independently. The "community" now absolutely needs to be considered to include the outdoor community. Hikers, kayakers, divers, climbers and all other outdoors persons who share equipment or mingle with the general population are susceptible. From a reference entitled "Diagnosis MRSA - The Clinical Challenge of Multidrug-Resistant Infections," authored by Peter DeBlieux and colleagues and published as a supplement to ACEP NEWS, comes some useful observations.

Skin and soft tissue infections are among the most common infections caused by bacteria that can develop resistance to bacteria. Persons at particular risk for such infections include males, certain geographies, time of year (during warmer months), and affliction with diabetes. Many of the infections are abscesses, in which there is a pus pocket that can be drained by making an incision. Such treatment is in fact important to help control the spread of MRSA infections, presumably by helping to cure the abscess(es).

The current thinking is that in the setting of an "uncomplicated" skin and soft tissue infection (e.g., no involvement of deep tissues, minor clinically: simple abscess, impetigo, pimple, or superficial cellulitis), incision and drainage of small, localized abscesses can be curative. However, this is not an absolute, so many physicians are of the opinion that adding an effective antibiotic is useful. Until we have more information, it remains the clinical judgment of the treating physician about whether or not to prescribe an effective antibiotic, such as trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole.

In complicated infections, which involve deeper skin structures (such as infected tissue ulcers, rapidly progressive infections, diabetic foot infections involving MRSA), antibiotics are deemed to be essential. The oral antibiotics that are felt to be effective against MRSA are clindamycin, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, doxycycline, minocycline, linezolid, and rifampin. The injectable antibiotics that are felt to be effective against MRSA are vancomycin, clindamycin, daptomycin, tigecycline, linezolid, and quinupristin-dalfopristin. Notably, the fluroquinolone category of drugs, which includes ciprofloxacin, is not recommended as an effective treatment for community acquired MRSA infection. The same holds true for the macrolide category, which includes erythromycin, as well as cephalexin, penicillin, and dicloxacillin.

To prevent the spread of MRSA, wounds should be kept covered with clean, dry bandages; hands washed with soap and water or an effective hand sanitizer after each dressing change; close contacts instructed to bathe regularly; no sharing be allowed of bedding, towels, washcloths, bar soap, razors, and so forth.

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Preview the Annual Meeting of the Wilderness Medical Society, which will be held in Snowmass, Colorado July 24-29, 2009.

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Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.