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 on the Rocks

A while back, I wrote a post about methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), the bacteria that causes extremely tenacious and problematic infections, usually by entering the human body through the skin. Many of this blog’s readers have offered comments, which indicates a high interest in the topic, because MRSA infections can be nasty and prolonged.

I was contacted a few months back by Janet Bergman, a rock, ice, and mountaineering instructor, who is also an emergency medical technician (EMT) and excellent writer. She asked me for a few quotes that she could use for an article she was preparing for the magazine Rock and Ice, a publication “built by climbers” for the climbing community. Her demeanor and approach were thoughtful and well-meaning, so I agreed to help out. I’m asked quite often to assist writers who prepare articles for lay media, and also by medical professionals writing for technical journals and textbooks. I’m always impressed by level-headed, rational, and thorough reporters who are not trying to sensationalize information, but to get it right. I’m very pleased to report that Janet Bergman wrote a terrific piece, from which I learned a great deal.

I urge you to read Janet’s article, entitled “It’s Not A Spider Bite,” beginning on page 78 in issue 159 (April 2007) of Rock and Ice. It begins, “Megan Day, a Boston-area climber, visited the doctor for the fourth time. It was last August and the painful, pus-filled red bump recurring on her leg and abdomen….on her ear, and it was almost the size of a golf ball.” In the paragraphs that follow, Berman goes on to describe community acquired MRSA, in terms of definitions, epidemiology relevant to climbers, clinical presentation, risk factors for transmitting the infection, economic impact, medical complications, treatment, and sensible prevention measures. She wisely consulted experts in the field, so her facts are current and spot on.

What I really like is that the magazine’s editors allowed her the word count and space to do justice to the topic. This is a rarity in many lay magazines, who want to deliver everything in sound bites, which hardly are sufficient for complicated medical topics.

MRSA infections are becoming increasingly common, and so the public needs to be aware of how best to protect themselves and the importance of prompt diagnosis and proper treatment. Janet Bergman has done a great service to the climbing community by advising them to:

1. Keep hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
2. Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed.
3. Avoid contacts with other people’s wounds and bandages.
4. Avoid sharing personal items such as towels or razors.

Assume that MRSA is here to stay. If you are an athlete or adventurer, the last thing you want is to be laid low for months with a debilitating affliction that might have been avoided by personal hygiene measures.

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About the Author

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