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New Outbreaks of Drug-resistant Staph Infection Reported in Schools

Over the weekend, there were more reports of students being diagnosed with a dangerous antibiotic-resistant staph infection known as MRSA. A medical expert from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine explains the risks of the sometimes-deadly bacteria.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    There were reports this weekend of more outbreaks of a dangerous staph bacteria infecting students in several states. The bacteria, which is resistant to common antibiotics, is known as MRSA. It most commonly appears in hospital patients.

    The school cases, with three recent reported student deaths, come on the heels of new findings showing MRSA is now causing more deaths annually in the U.S. than AIDS. According to the new calculations by the Centers for Disease Control, MRSA is responsible for nearly 19,000 deaths a year and more than 90,000 serious infections. The figures suggest the infection is twice as common as previously thought.

    For more about MRSA, we turn to Dr. Richard Shannon, professor and chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

    And, Professor Shannon, welcome. First of all, what does MRSA stand for? And what is it?

    DR. RICHARD SHANNON, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine: Well, it's good to be with you, Margaret. MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant staph aureus. It's a type of bacteria related to a very common bacteria, typically known as staph, that, as you have said, becomes resistant over time to the use of conventional or first-line antibiotics.

    So penicillin is a commonly used antibiotic to treat staph infections. This particular strain has become resistant to that antibiotic.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    And then, we're seeing a growth not only in the antibiotic-resistant strain, but in this particularly invasive form that can get, what, from the skin into the body?

  • DR. RICHARD SHANNON:

    Well, that's right. I think what we're really seeing is that MRSA has typically been confined to hospitalized patients whose immune systems were weakened by another illness or who may have had a surgical wound that became infected.

    But now we're seeing these strains emerging in the community. And in particular, there are some variations in the strain that, as you say, tend to cause very serious skin infections that, if it gets into your blood, can cause a life-threatening illness.

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