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Superbug Is Increasing Among Vancouver IV Drug Users

By KJ Mullins     Feb 10, 2008 in Health
A superbug, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus has a hold of injection drug users in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and it is worrying health researchers. The staph bacteria has the potential to be fatal.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA has been rising quickly within community acquired infection STATs. While most lay people don't worry so much about a drug resistant virus affecting them when it's in the drug community the fact that its rapid spread there means that the rest of the general population is at serious risk.
"I think what this says is: We've got a genetically very smart microorganism here," said senior author Dr. Elizabeth Bryce, a medical microbiologist and infection control specialist with Vancouver General Hospital. "And these (injection drug users) could be the canaries in the coal mine."
Researchers from Vancouver Coastal Health and the University of British Columbia saw an increase of 250 percent in the Eastside community between 2000 to 2006. If those figures are any indication of what could happen in all of the general population we could be sitting on a cannonball just waiting to be fired.
The current groups that are considered high risk other than IV drug users are residents of First Nations' reserves, athletes that play team sports and prison inmates.
In 2006 18.6 percent of the 300 injection drug users in the study tested positive for MRSA. In 2000 only 7.4 percent had tested positive.
"This is certainly one of the highest colonization rates I've seen," said Dr. Elizabeth Bancroft, a medical epidemiologist with the public health department of Los Angeles County, which for years has been battling what is now considered an endemic MRSA problem.
Between 25 to 30 percent of healthy people carry Staph in their nose or skin at any given time. Some of those will develop Staph infections of the skin like boils or skin lesions. Some though will come down with more serious infections attacking the bloodstream or pneumonia.
While Canada does have a lower level of population infection than the United States it is still quite worrisome to researchers. In the United States the most common drug resistant staph is the USA-300 strain with the USA-500 strain which is commonly found in hospitals.
The MRSA strain is a mutation of the USA-300 strain.
What was remarkable to me is not only did the rate of people with MRSA just jump up, but almost the entire increase was due to the so-called USA-300 strain coming into this population and then sort of spreading," Bancroft said.
The researchers are suggesting that local public health authorities throughout Canada should be doing studies to find out how spread MRSA is outside of hospitals to be able to know what to deal with in the future.
"It can cause extremely nasty stuff," Bancroft said. "It can cause anything from something that's a self-limited decent size pimple all the way to death. It can cause a full range of outcomes."
Frequent hand washing is your best defense against this bacteria.
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