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Winter 2007

Antibiotic-resistant Bacteria Becoming More Common

Infections from certain aggressive forms of bacteria do not respond to standard antibiotics

Infections from antibiotic- resistant bacteria are becoming increasingly common, and are no longer confined to hospitals and other healthcare environments, according to a UCLA infectious disease expert.

Most troublesome has been the rise in communityacquired infections from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a particularly aggressive form of bacteria that tends to cause abscesses in otherwise intact skin and does not respond to standard antibiotics. “Until a few years ago, it was rare to see any community-associated MRSA infections, and now it’s very frequent,” says Zachary Rubin, M.D., infectious disease specialist at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica. Dr. Rubin notes that the trend started with clusters of infections among certain groups of people, including Native Americans, intravenous drug users, the homeless and people participating in contact sports. More recently, it has broadened to the point that nearly everyone is susceptible, he says. Though MRSA has spread into the general population, individuals can protect themselves from transmission and infection by washing their hands frequently, using antibacterial soap and by not sharing personal items, such as razors and bath towels. 

Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) infections are seeing a similar emergence, Dr. Rubin says. Although less virulent than MRSA, VRE can be even more difficult to treat. Most prone are people already at risk for severe infection, including patients experiencing a prolonged illness and those who have been on many different types of antibiotics.

Another antibiotic-resistant bacteria, Acinetobacter, has emerged as an important hospital-acquired infection and is unusually common among injured soldiers.

 Hospitals, under the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have developed techniques to decrease the risk of transmission of these bacteria. UCLA employs evidence-based infection- control strategies to combat the spread of infections in the hospital, such as wearing gloves and gowns into affected patients’ rooms, and frequent hand washing or use of alcohol-based hand rub before all patient contact.

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