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Staving off a Staph Infection

Alarming news about staph, one of the most common causes of skin infections in the United States, has been in the headlines lately.

Staph is a common bacteria that is carried on the skin of 30 percent of the population. Over the past couple of decades, staph has become resistant to antibiotics. Once confined to hospitals and other health care settings, staph is now readily found in schools, health clubs and other locations where large numbers of people come in contact with the same surfaces and with each other. These infections are hard to spot since they look like pimples, boils or insect bites.

Most people carry staph on the outer part of their noses. Once they rub their noses, the bacteria transfers to their hands. The bacteria can enter their bloodstream through open cuts. Staph is then passed along to others through hand-to-hand contact.

Despite the prevalence of staph bacteria and the ease with which it is spread, there are precautions you can take to minimize your chances of getting it:

-- Wash your hands. This is the best way to avoid staph. Instead of using soap and water, try using an antibacterial soap for added resistance.

-- Keep wounds covered. Keep cuts clean and covered with sterile bandages until they heal. Apply topical antibiotic cream to any cut or sore within the first 24 hours.

-- Take precautions with high-risk food. Avoid mayonnaise or egg-based salads or cream sauces that have not been properly refrigerated.

-- Keep personal items personal. Avoid sharing items such as towels, sheets, razors, clothing or athletic equipment. Staph can spread through objects as well as people. If you do have a cut or sore, wash towels and linens with detergent, hot water, and bleach and dry them in a hot dryer (depending on color and fabric type).

-- Get tested. If you do have a skin infection, ask your doctor if you should be tested for CA-MRSA.

-- Protect work spaces. In the workplace, clean your phone or desk with antibacterial wipes to protect yourself and your co-workers from a potential staph infection.

The good news is most staph infections are treatable with antibiotics.

However, many staph infections may not require antibiotics. Your doctor can drain the boil before it blossoms into staph. If you notice that the infection is not getting better within a few days or has returned, contact your doctor.

Dr. Peter Rissing is Chief of Infectious Disease with MCG Health System

Web posted on Thursday, November 08, 2007

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