MRSA – The Legacy

September 14, 2007

Anyone who’s ever tested positive for an MRSA infection will know what I’m talking about here. I’m curious to know when if ever, you can be declared free of this dreaded superbug? The standard procedure seems to be to aim for three consecutive negative screening swabs. Is this really enough to give you the green light for all-clear? Or does a requisite time-frame have to elapse before a recurrence/repeat recurrence can be ruled out? It’s been my own personal experience to discover that the medical profession does not seem to want to know or care about the reality of recurrence. Once you’ve been labelled with an MRSA status, it seems that you are forever more to be viewed as a ‘threat’ to mankind and believe me, it produces some ‘interesting’ reactions.

A close friend of mine (with a very good sense of humour) was admitted to hospital this week to have some neurosurgery performed on his back. He recounted to me the following discussion which took place between him and the admissions nurse.

Question: Have you ever had an MRSA infection?

Answer: No, but I have a good friend who has.

Question: Have you been in close contact with your friend?

Answer: Yes, but if you mean have we had sex – the answer is No! (Ha!Ha!)

Question: (asked with zero humour) Have you been in recent contact?

Answer: Yes, I have – our families meet regularly.

The interrogation terminated at this stage and my friend was then subjected to a full screening for MRSA prior to his surgery. He rang me this evening to tell me what had happened and we shared a good laugh about it together. I have had two reactions to this scenario.

Firstly, it’s good to know that patients are being screened whenever there is any doubt about the possibility of MRSA contamination. However I’d like to point out that the logic for screening in this instance seems to have been as a safety precaution for the hospital rather than for the patient. My friend was admitted on the day of his surgery and therefore the result of the screening would not have been known prior to his operation. Secondly, my friend was not asked for any details about my present status. It seemed to be a case of “once an MRSA risk – always an MRSA risk”.

My situation is that I contracted MRSA osteomyelitis of the frontal bone of the skull following surgery two years ago. I underwent intensive intra-venous antibiotic therapy to eradicate the infection and eventually got the all-clear some three months later following repeated MRSA screening. However my MRSA infection recurred ‘out of the blue’ nine months later and required further intensive antibiotic treatment plus extensive surgery to remove the diseased bone. I have not had any screening since the most recent surgery and yet it appears that I am still to be tarnished with the same ‘leper’ status acquired two years ago. I have been subjected to many strange reactions over the years. I’m aware that a huge amount of ignorance exists around having a positive MRSA status and therefore I can laugh at the consequences – I’ve no doubt that others are hurt and offended by the reaction received. There is a question that remains unanswered here however – “when can someone who has a history of recurrence of MRSA infection, be considered to be risk free?”. I’ve never been able to elicit a confident reply to this question from the medics. I suppose it’s a bit like the uncertainty faced by people who’ve survived cancer – no doctor can tell them with utter confidence that they will remain free of the disease. My conscience has taught me to stay clear of anyone who has had recent surgery or is immuno-compromised and I also avoid newborn babies for the same reason. I otherwise go about life quite normally without undue worries. However, the legacy lives on and I’d love someone to be able to tell me that I can leave it all behind.

Have you got any views on this?


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