How To Avoid Staph

Now that MSRA, or methicillin-resistant staph, has taken the lead as America’s Worst Infection, killing more people annually than AIDS, it’s a good time to learn a little more about how to avoid it, how to identify it, and what to do if you suspect you have it. The New York Times offers a brief, helpful article about the topic, answering questions like “What can I do to lower my risk of catching it?” and “Where does it lurk?”

The basic advice is to wash, wash, wash. Practice good hygiene, wipe down surfaces and keep yourself clean when you’re at the gym, take care of all cuts and scrapes and keep them bandaged, and make sure your children don’t share their belongings with friends—especially since staph is hardy, and can be transferred down a long chain, e.g. from Mom who works at the nursing home, to her daughter, to your daughter, to the rest of your family. (Something similar to this actually happened to a doctor quoted in the article.) And above all, respect antibiotics; your bank account will thank you when you don’t have to spend months trying to recover from an infection.

Without question, people need to show far more respect for antibiotics. Misuse of antibiotics allows bacteria to evolve and develop resistance to drugs. But parents often pressure pediatricians to prescribe antibiotics even when they don’t help the vast majority of childhood infections. When you do take an antibiotic, finish the dose. Antibiotic resistance is bad for everyone, but your body can also become particularly vulnerable to resistant bacteria if you are careless with the drugs.

“Drug-Resistant Staph: What You Need to Know” [New York Times]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. pyloff says:

    Isn’t this more related to the antibiotic use in the meat industry. The feed they produce and the runoff. A few bottles of Purel aren’t causing this problem.

  2. cobaltthorium says:

    Read TFA – seems too much like fear-mongering to me. Yeah, we should take precautions, but most of those are common sense. If you’re going to get infected from the handle of an exercise machine or from sharing a cell phone*, then there’s not much you can really do to prevent it. Why not worry about drunk driving?


    Almost as many people died in 2005 as a cause of drunk driving than from CA-MRSA. Oh, but you can’t really do anythiing to prevent getting hit by a car, so that’s different than this. Oh, wait. It’s really not.

    LESSON: Wash hands before eating and don’t worry about things you can’t prevent. Some students posted after the story about being too afraid to go to school.


    *Yes theses are two examples used in the story. Fear-mongering at it’s best, people.

  3. pyloff says:


  4. JessiesMind says:

    Eh, it’s just the same thing Mom’s been saying for years now. Here’s a recap of wisdom:

    *Antibiotics? Uh, no. Get off your ass, get moving and you’ll feel better. (She was right.)

    *Antibacterial? Try soap and water! Do you realize the antibacterial stuff not only kills the bad germs, but it also kills the GOOD germs that help build up our immune system?!? (Right, again.)

    *No, she doesn’t need her tonsils taken out. I don’t care if they’re the size of golf balls. What do you mean they’re useless? They’re a part of your immune system, dotor! What college did you go to, again? (Mom nailed this one, too.)

    *Why are my fingernails so strong and pretty? Go do the dishes. Maybe it’ll come to you. (Damn her.)

    Oh, by the way, I’ll deny it if any of you tell her I admitted she was right.

  5. ErinYay says:

    And if you’re not a sick old person, or working directly with sick old people, your chance of “picking it up” is really small. We’ve known about MRSA for a long, long time in health care (esp. geriatric) and I’m not surprised the public is now being “altered” to it by our ever-helpful fearmedia.

  6. Lattefun says:

    I agree with you Jessiesmind! I grew up listening to a Grandmother that lost 3 siblings to the flu in 1918, and lived a great deal of her life without the benefit of pennicillin and more modern drugs. She would say the same things as your mom.

  7. Thorzdad says:

    Our son contracted MRSA a couple of years ago. One day he noted that his finger seemed stiff and a little sore. By the end of the day, it had started swelling up and he couldn’t bend his finger. Within 2 days, he was undergoing surgery to remove the infection. He was then in hospital quarantine getting antibiotic IV’s for two more days.

    Luckily, it was caught in time, but we were scared by how quickly the infection took off. The doctor told us he’d have probably lost at least one finger if we had waited another day.

    Nasty stuff.

  8. Trai_Dep says:

    Thor –

    Glad to see your kid recovered When did you bring your son in? How old was he? Does age impact the prognosis (odds of recovery) or catching it? Does it need an open sore to be a hazard? Thanks.

    I’m cognizant that this is the hyped medical condition of the month, but still curious.

  9. larkknot says:

    I have had several young and otherwise healthy friends suffer from MRSA in the last two years – people that lived in different cities and had no contact with each other, and more importantly no contact with a hospital or other institutional setting until after the infection. I see the articles more as a response to the increasing occurance of MRSA in the general population than as outright fear-mongering. However, all the effort we put towards avoiding illness means that we weaken our immune systems and get much sicker when we do finally catch something.

  10. my mom had MRSA in 2003…it was on her stomach – at first she thought it was a spider bite, until a huge boil formed and burst, oozing this nasty smelling puss everywhere. She was in quarentine for 3 weeks, taking Ciproflaxin (sp?)…bad stuff.

  11. @HappyPuppy: There’s one more group – kids in contact sports. Football players, wrestlers, any kid in a contact sport is at risk. I coach HS wrestling, and we had two very minor cases last year. Our county is now focused on making sure we have none this year. Wash, wash, wash – surfaces, too, not just people. Open cuts and contact are a bad combination.

  12. thorzdad says:


    We took him in on the third day. Our GP had to pull some strings to get him into a specialist the same day. Our son was 18 at the time. I don’t know if age has much to do with recovery, other than younger people tend to be in better overall health than older people.

    To this day, we have no idea how the infection got into his system. The only thing we could think of is that our son is very prone to dry skin and, perhaps, the infection got in through a small crack in his skin. We’ll never know for sure. There were no obvious cuts on his hand at the time, though.

    It’s kind of a sad story. At the time, he was in his high school band, and they were set to leave the next day for Florida to play at DisneyWorld. When the doctor told us he had to miss the trip and have surgery immediately, he was crushed (and I watched a lot of non-refundable cash flush down the toilet)

    I’m happy to report he enjoys full use of his hand. It was pretty scary, though.

    It may seem that this is all being hyped as the medical emergency du-jour. I tend to think it’s more like the big, festering secret the medical community has been trying to keep quiet. But it’s grown out of control to where they can’t contain it anymore.

  13. Kittenplan says:

    I have to chime in as another perfectly healthy, young person who has gotten MRSA infections. I had the awesome experience of getting one on my face and spent a good 4 days or so thinking it was a spider bite (while it continued to get worse).

    The scary part to me is that staph can colonize in your nose and reinfect you whenever it can get into a cut on your skin. I’ve had about 10 infections since the initial one, so I’ve become pretty good at taking care of them myself. FYI there’s an ointment you can stick up your nose to try to kill off the staph, but it doesn’t always work.

  14. anncaddellcrawford says:


    My son had MRSA after spinal surgery. We are blessed that the special infection control doctor did not give up until he found an antibiotic that worked. He also had three total spinal surgeries within a couple of weeks to repair and clean areas in his spine. It took him six months to recover with intervenous antibiotics.

    GERM CATCHERS – I observed a really scary thing in this hospital. Many of the females working there who were involved in patient care had FAKE FINGER NAILS which probably harbored ten zillion germs. When not wearing gloves, they touched many things and places which would spread infection. Now, picture this – sure – they put on gloves, but those nasty nails which cannot be sanitized helped them pull on the rubber gloves.

    I say if anyone works in a hospital, they MUST agree to not have FAKE NAILS – which cannot be properly disinfected while on the fingers – no matter what. Hospitals should ban them as well as other places people go for medical treatment.