Staph infections becoming more common

Kira Meixner

Choosing bar soap over body wash could mean the difference between healthy skin and a staph infection.

Raymond Leone, Kent State University chief physician, said there have been an unusual number of patients with abscesses at the DeWeese Health Center this year. These abscesses usually form along the hairline or underarms; however, sores are now appearing in less common places on the body, such as the shoulders, forearms and thighs.

The staph bacteria spreads by skin-to-skin contact and can cause infections when it gets into the body, said Mark Hudak, Kent State athletic team physician. Athletes may be more at risk because of the environment they are exposed to.

Hudak said using workout machines and sharing equipment can make it easier for the bacteria to spread, but athletic staff are constantly scrubbing the mats and keeping surfaces clean.

Since Jan. 1, 25 abscesses have been treated and cultured at the Health Center. About 33 percent of these were caused by Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), a type of bacteria that is resistant to common antibiotics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Leone said the bacteria must be treated differently, but it used to be more dangerous than it is now.

“MRSA used to be considered a ‘super bug,'” Leone said. “It was bad.”

Individuals can be infected if they have an open cut or wound and the bacteria enters their bodies. Before the increase in abnormal abscesses, Leone drained sores and treated patients with standard antibiotics. Due to the increase of the MRSA-caused infections, the Health Center has slightly changed its procedure when dealing with abscesses.

“We now automatically cover for normal skin conditions and MRSA on the first visit,” Leone said. “We always culture them.”

Leone said it is not yet clear why abnormal abscesses are appearing, but there is some speculation about the effects of body washes compared to bar soaps. More people are using body washes, and not all of them are antibacterial, Leone said.

Hudak recommends athletes wash their hands often and shower directly after practice or games.

Insecurities over communal showering in high schools could be the reason for recent staph infections, Hudak said. High school students may be more reluctant to shower in front of each other and wait until they get home to wash themselves. This allows more time for the bacteria to spread.

Hudak said staph is a common bacteria that lives on the skin and is easy to get rid of with the right antibiotic. The number of MRSA-caused infections aren’t necessarily increasing, doctors are just seeing more of them.

“Staph infections are common,” Hudak said. “We are just noticing them more because we are really looking.”

If individuals notice redness or boils on their skin, they should treat the infections with Neosporin and keep them covered, Hudak said. Individuals should use common sense regarding abscesses and let a doctor know if they have a sore that is not going away.

“There have been cases of staph, but no outbreaks,” Hudak said. “We are keeping a close eye on it.”

Contact health and medical reporter Kira Meixner at [email protected].