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MRSA, the superbug

Last week, a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disclosed that out of nearly 300 raw meat samples purchased from 30 Detroit supermarkets, six samples tested positive for the bacterium MRSA.

This isn’t the first time MRSA has been found in the meat we eat, not to mention in gyms, hospitals and on commuter trains. Resistant to antibiotics and growing tougher by the year, MRSA has been touted as a superbug for our end times, responsible for 19,000 deaths each year in the U.S. Are its rising rates a true public health calamity or an overblown cause for alarm? Here’s what you should know.

1. It’s not necessarily flesh eating.

MRSA is a strain of the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, otherwise known as S. aureus, that’s resistant to methicillin antibiotics used against  infections. Regular S. aureus is actually common – healthy people can have it on their skin or inside their noses. It’s when MRSA gets into a cut, catheter, or open wound and enters your bloodstream that an infection can get serious. Gone unchecked, it attacks the immune system and can lead to complications such as blood poisoning, pneumonia, organ failure and even death.

Though characterized as a flesh-eating superbug, MRSA infections can start off as simple as a boil or pimple and can become an abscess, blister or sore. See a list of symptoms.

2. The sick are getting sicker.

MRSA infections are occurring with rising frequency in hospitals, where staph bacteria wreak havoc on patients who are already weakened. Hospital-acquired infections are blamed for more than 98,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Sixty-three percent of staph infections were caused by MRSA in 2004, in contrast with only 22 percent in 1995 and 2 percent in 1974.

MRSA germs can live for hours on the surfaces of blood-pressure cuffs or other medical equipment, and are transmitted easily between patients and health care workers. Screening patients for MRSA, or even requiring health care workers to wash their hands more often, would help stem infections, but cost is often cited as an issue. Treating a MRSA infection is even more pricey: one study found that the average cost is $47,000.

3. Not your grandmother’s MRSA.

Today’s newer, stronger strain of MRSA isn’t just threatening the old and the infirm. These so-called community-associated MRSA infections are occurring in healthier and younger individuals who haven’t been hospitalized. Gym equipment, tattoo parlors and shared towels or razor blades are some common ways of spreading infections. Outbreaks are more likely to occur where people are in close proximity to one another, such as in schools, gyms and prisons.

Another culprit may be the prevalence of antibiotic use, which has produced more virulent strains of bacteria that are harder to wipe out. Community-associated MRSA is one such strain, and as it gets stronger, it’s getting more difficult to treat.

4. Blame the animal farm.

In 2004,  a MRSA link was found between pigs and humans in the Netherlands, when several family members, workers and pigs on one hog farm all tested positive for the bacteria. Pig farmers in the Netherlands were reported to be 760 times more likely to have MRSA than the general population. In the U.S., 45 percent of pig farmers and 49 percent of pigs tested were also found to have MRSA (carriers don’t necessarily have symptoms).

What’s the connection? Industrial livestock farming, which houses animals in very close quarters, necessitates feeding these animals antibiotics so they don’t become infected by unsanitary living conditions. One 2001 study concluded that healthy livestock consumes 70 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. The result is that the animals grow faster, but they’re also more likely to become resistant to antibiotics. MRSA bacteria can then be passed on to humans who handle the animals or drink groundwater that’s been polluted from hog farms.

5. The future is murky.

MRSA in your meats isn’t a death sentence. The strain of MRSA discovered in the Detroit grocery stores was a human strain, possibly passed on by food handlers or in processing plants. The infection could be passed on to consumers if they handled raw meat while having open cuts on their hands, for instance (wear gloves for protection if this is the case). Cooking your meat thoroughly and washing any kitchen utensils it touches can get rid of the bacteria.

But as it evolves, MRSA may cease to be treatable. And it won’t be the only antibiotic-resistant bacteria in town: new bacterial strains like Acinetobacter baumannii are proving to be even more challenging to treat. As the Infectious Diseases Society of America claims, growing antibiotic resistance is “an emerging crisis” and “considered a substantial threat to U.S. public health and national security.”


  • Beth Adcock

    4.  ”… The result is that the animals grow faster, but they’re also more likely to become resistant to antibiotics.”  

    It isn’t the animals which become resistant to the antibiotics, but the bacteria present in the unsanitary conditions caused by industrial farming.

  • Sassysuecross

    Seems I am living with it, since after 3 antibiotics I was cultured and still came out positive.  What next?  It seems my health-doesnʻt-care insurance, United, for which I pay nearly $500/mo, is unwilling to help me, since Iʻve already been living with it for years now.

  • Albert D. Melfo

    Meh. You could also trip while you’re walking down the hall with a pencil in your hand and give yourself a lobotomy. I call media-hype alarmist BS. Sorry.

  • Jockdr

    Seems that they always seem to be treating people for MRSA in the hospital I work at. Believe the hype. It affects the ones whom don’t have good immune systems or are very sick and old in age.

  • Sawolf1956

    I believe wavelengths of EMR about 420nm will kill MERSA

  • Phil

    Albert,  I’ve just spent 3 weeks in a hospital contagious ward with MRSA.  Easy, you think?  Started heavy duty IV in hospital, – Continued administered treatment at home, total almost 2months. Had to have PICC line because of corrosive affects of the MRSA indicated anti-biotic. Two months with a line into my heart! Not a simple thing! Here’s a google link:

    Do some research.  BTW, It is NOT hype by the evil media! There’s tons of it out there, not just in hospitals. Talk to Medical pro’s, they can tell you how it is!

  • tmullins

    Here in East Tennessee and southwest Virginia, MRSA is deemed, defended and supported as “acceptable standards of care”.

  • Albert D. Melfo

    Phil — sorry to hear it, and that really sucks. I didn’t intend in my comment to question the existence of MRSA or diminish anyone’s person experience. I was more reacting to the continuing trend of the media to blindly report on legitimately scary things like this, without really getting to the root of the problem. In this case, for instance — *where* are all of these new threatening strains of bacteria coming from? They seem to be propagating exponentially, along with shaky leg syndrome, peanut allergies, widespread ADHD in children — all of which we never heard of back when I was growing up in the 60′s and 70′s.

    Think about it: How do bacteria become resistant? Pretty widely acknowledged that our primary food sources have been polluted by big agriculture in it’s charge to make more money, sell more cereal, breed chickens with bigger breasts — all that grain-fed antibiotic-treated food we’ve been sold for the past 30 years, which is creating tons of serious but unnecessary health problems in millions of people who are sincerely trying to do the right thing by their own health. Which is further complicated by the BS fed to us by the AMA and big pharma, whose existence at the moment is based on disease treatment than on preventative health. When’s the last time a GP told you that all processed foods are bad for you? including so-called “healthy” whole grain breads? Or that it’s very likely that high cholesterol numbers are more an indicator that your body is doing its level best to fight inflammation caused by factors that have nothing to do with how much red meat or how many eggs you eat and much more to do with the obsolete ideas about nutrition that continue to be force-fed to us?

    It’s time for all of us to wake up, take the initiative to learn the facts on our own, and take care of ourselves, instead of being led to believe that any of society’s institutions are really interested in our individual quality of life. We can and should arm ourselves with knowledge and use it in our best interests.

    I do wish you a full recovery. If you’re interested about any of the things I’ve mentioned, here’s are a couple of great resources:

    Mark’s Daily Apple

    Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger.


  • Kjschwa

    TThis article fails to mention that around 30% of the population are passively colonized by staph in their noses and skin. Oftentimes these can be MRSA strains. This isn’t necessary something you pick up from meat or door knobs.

  • Kati McAllister Hibri

    I just bought a product for killing staph that is said to prevent MRSA without antibiotics.  Its an antiseptic/pain relieving gel with Benzethonium Chloride 0.2% (antiseptic) and Lidocain HCl 2.5% (pain reliever).  I haven’t actually used it yet, but it was available at my grocery store for $13.

    I got a staph infection in 2001 from the ocean (most likely) paired with being on a 75 day wilderness trip with almost non-existent bathing and water-proof pants. I was treated with antibiotics when I arrived in the ER in Puerto Mont, Chile, and the infection subsided.  However, I still to this day take either minocycline or doxycycline without which I would probably break out with a huge boil or two, (and unfortunately it would probably be on my otherwise great ass, because I live in Texas and am known to sweat a lot) which besides embarrassing, are very uncomfortable to sit on.  
    I sometimes wonder if being treated for acne with the same antibiotics for years before the staph infection actually contributed to my susceptibility.  After the staph infection, when I still had big acne-like boils, I had to convince my dermatologist to take a skin-swab and check it for staph….and it was positive, but same treatement: mino- or doxycycline.

    I have been vegetarian since a few months before the first staph infection, so I know I am not getting re-exposed to it from handling meat.  I also do many many other things to stay healthy (monitor my pH and adjust my food accordingly, eat mostly raw vegan organic food, limit my sugar intake, and work-out – I even do breathing excercises!) and at this point, I would love to get off the antibiotics, but I am somewhat nervous about doing it.  I have the new topical ointment, but still…

    Anyone with any kind of similar situation?  I wonder how many other kids treated early and consistently for acne end up with staph issues?  I kinda think the super-strain is within me all the time, and I just have to keep doing everything I am doing to keep it at bay.

  • Kati McAllister Hibri

    Oh yeah, the name of the product is “StaphAseptic”

  • Sassysuecross

    I constantly was treated w antibiotics as a kid for what they used to call tonsillitis and firmly believe it has wreaked havoc w my health–though contrary to some comments, I feel my immune system is keeping me alive, though miserable at times when the staph comes on strong. I absolutely believe it has been living in my body for at least 12 years while I begged doctors to figure out WHAT is going on in my body!

  • No 1woodstar

    It killed my guy in 94.  He had lived with it for years and was so very frail when he decided he couldn’t live on the harsh antibiotics they were giving him through a PICC line in his chest.  So, he quite taking the antibiotics and was dead in less than two months.  Have a nice day.

  • Down The Think

    Twice I have acquired incredible infections from hospitals; both time it was the result of touching chairs or other surfaces in the hospital.  It happened because I rubbed an eye after touching a hospital surface.  Within 24 hours an abscess had developed and within twelve hours had doubled in size. By the time I could get to a doctor (NOT an emergency room!) the abscess was so large that I could not see out of the affected eye.  It took the doctor several minutes to manually express the pus that had accumulated. Now, when I have to be in a hospital, either visiting a friend or as a patient, I use gelled alcohol or alcohol prep pads before touching any part of my body that might permit an infection to start.  When I’ve been out and about, I wash my hands thoroughly before anything else. The end result is that I’ve been free of colds, infections, etc.

  • Down The Think

    Forgot to mention that a novel by Peter Clement, “Death Rounds,” is a fascinating peek into MRSA.  Although a novel, Dr. Clement, is a physician who served as chief of Emergency in a major metropolitan teaching hospital, he’s practiced as a M.D. for over thirty years.  His novels are based on his experiences over the years.

  • R.B. Baker

    Point # 4 in the article is completely erroneous.  Pigs do have a MERSA – ST398 which was first detected in the Netherlands – it is found in horses, cattle, cats and dogs.  Community acquired MERSA is also found in pets but not livestock.  ST398 has a global distribution but has not been associated with hospital derived or community derived MERSA in the U.S.   The antibiotic usage in livestock is important for health maintenance and the welfare of the animals.  The comment about filthy conditions in modern pig farms is far from the truth. US Pigs are healthier today than they have ever been. They are healthier than pigs anywhere else in world.  Survival from birth to market is the highest it has ever been.  The amount of antibiotic per pig is the lowest it has been since the 1960ies. The U.S. pig industry should be the model for the rest of the world from carbon footprint, conservation of natural resources, welfare and disease management and elimination perspectives. It is apparent the reporter has never been on a modern farm of any kind.
    R. B. Baker DVM, MS

  • mrsa staph infections

    It is better if local authorities conduct some campaigns especially in schools…  

  • Teidora

    I lost my father to Mrsa. Through a hospital. :(

  • RN

    MRSA was once known as a nosocomial infection that is a hospital acquired infection. Nurses, doctors and other staff not washing their hands. Now there are hand sanitizers hanging on the wall. Before you let anyone touch you, you should see them using it. If they don’t ask them to wash their hands. I can’t tell you the number of nurses that go room to room and never clean their hands. Now there is community acquired MRSA, patients leave the hospital with untreated MRSA and the spread it to their families. Also family members go visit patients and don’t follow the precautions on the door. We’re not gloving and gowning because we like it. In fact it’s a pain in the you know what, but it’s necessary to prevent cross contamination.
    My advice wash your hands if you have a cut or other open area cover it with a band aid.

  • Jacinda

    You need to be on probiotics whenever you are taking antibiotics. The antibiotics kill the good and bad bacteria in your body, and all that is left is the resistant strains of bacteria. Wiping out the good bacteria leaves ample room for resistant strains to multiply within your body and take over. Good luck.