About AIDS

Poz people and staph don't mix!

A Taylor High School football player hospitalized twice last September with a drug-resistant staph infection. Six UT players with the same thing a year earlier. And last week another 20 cases reported here in Central Texas in a month. Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections – potentially "flesh-eating bacteria" and historically associated with hospitals – are burgeoning in the broader community.

Two related reports suggest that HIV-positive people might want to take special care to avoid similar infections, which can be serious, possibly even fatal. In April, the CDC reported more than 1,000 cases of U.S. HIVers with MRSA infections, primarily on the skin, but also in the sinuses, lungs, and elsewhere.

Now, Nature (Sept. 17) reports that serious MRSA infections are much more frequent across Europe than previously thought – five times what was expected. In England, they have more than doubled in five years.

Staph is spread through contact, not through the air. Most infections are not severe, but sometimes the bacteria become truly nasty, eating through soft tissues, blood vessels, and organs (necrotizing fasciitis). The potential outcome can be rapid death from toxic shock.

The kicker for HIV-poz people: The patient's immune health can be an important factor, says Nature. We know that immune-compromised people don't defeat infections easily, yet because MRSA does not respond to the usual

first-line antibiotics, one's immune system is especially important in the battle.

So, what to do? Various staph forms are all around us – on skin, in the nose, and in soil. "Wash your hands!" infection control instructors preach – and correctly, too. Bathe carefully, especially at the gym; don't share towels or clothes. Keep cuts and scrapes clean and bandaged – now, not later. If you develop blisterlike skin sores, especially if accompanied by swelling; or a sore throat or cough, especially with a fever, contact your doctor immediately!

Staph infections, even MRSA, may not be absolutely avoidable. But catching and correctly treating them in time can make all the difference in outcome.

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