Blog Infectious Disease

The journey to becoming a staph-buster

Written by Margot Palmer, undergraduate student at University of Georgia-Athens and participant in the Institute for Public Health Summer Research Program

Dr. Stephanie  Fritz, associate professor of pediatrics, presented on the rise of community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, and her recent studies on treating MRSA infections and mechanisms for resistance. She focused on the epidemiology of MRSA colonization and adjusting household hygiene practices to aid in prevention of recurrent infections.

Staphylococcus aureus is a pathobiont – a pathogen that can asymptomatically colonize its host and exist in a symbiotic relationship, yet can lead to invasive, life-threatening skin and soft tissue infections (SSTIs). MRSA is resistant to the β-lactam class of antibiotics, and there is no current vaccine. Treatments such as topical antibiotics, antiseptic washes, and bleach baths have been used in the past to reduce spread of infection to other household members; but just how effective are these measures in eradication of Staphylococcus aureus carriage in patients with SSTIs?

Dr. Fritz found that patients with SSTIs who used these prevention measures, decreased carriage of MRSA, but only sustained it for three months post infection. She then conducted another randomized trial of pediatric patients with confirmed Staphylococcus aureus infections and studied transmission of infection to other household contacts, leading to the HOME study – Household Observation of MRSA in Environment. Shockingly, 21% of primary patients were colonized with MRSA, which was then found on surfaces in ½ of the homes studied, as well as in the household pets.

In taking one step further to reduce household colonization, Dr. Fritz is currently implementing SHINE, Staph Household Intervention for Eradication, an integrated approach to personal household hygiene to prevent infections. MRSA is a tricky pathogen to deal with, but with intervention measures like those implemented by Dr. Fritz, we can gain a better understanding of how to reduce rates of infection.