My MRSA: A Personal Account

Nov 19, 2015 | Gia Ciccolo Colleen Nguyen | Commentary

Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is the mutated, antibiotic-resistant strain of regular “staph” infections, commonly found in gyms and frequently passed through communal sports equipment. MRSA’s clinical presentation is very similar to common staph infections, and can only be distinguished from non-resistant staph infections through laboratory susceptibility testing. Because of the commonalities between the types, people may forget how antibiotic resistance can drastically alter the outcomes of infection.

Staphylococcus aureus is a fairly common bacteria that one in three people carry in their nose asymptomatically. Clinical infection occurs when this bacteria enters an opening in the skin, such as a cut or wound, and is spread through skin to skin contact.1 Over time, the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria can develop resistance to many of the antibiotics used to treat these infections. It is estimated that two of every 100 people are colonized with MRSA.1

In my own experience, I had never paid much attention to what antibiotic resistance could mean on an individual scale.

 

It was the most exciting time of my life. I was in England on the Thames just before the start of the summer Olympics, planning to race my university’s crew boat to victory at the 2012 Women’s Henley Regatta. My leg bothered me a little – and had been for a few days, but it was not something I thought I couldn’t handle. Pain is certainly something rowers are very accustomed to working through.

I continued to practice, despite what appeared to be an ingrown hair surrounded by mild red inflammation forming on my lower calf. After a few more days of pain, as well as fluid buildup within my leg, I went to a local doctor who diagnosed me with a staph infection (cellulitis) and prescribed a round of antibiotics. Despite treatment, the pain worsened, making the placement of weight on my foot unbearable. Unbeknownst to me, the anti-inflammatory medication I had been taking for the pain was also masking a fever I had developed over the previous days.

A few days later, I woke up with excruciating pain, was unable to walk, and spiking a high fever. After being rushed to the emergency room, I was again treated with the same antibiotic, further confusing many health professionals as to why my health failed to improve.

It would be a full week before the diagnosis -- antibiotic resistant form of staph; by then, I had already contracted MRSA-related pneumonia and had gone into sepsis- where the infection had entered my blood stream. Following multidrug treatment, several surgeries were performed, as the infection in my leg had grown exponentially and it could no longer be treated by antibiotics alone.

Upon entrance into the first of the four “clean out” surgeries to remove the infected tissue, my doctor muttered to my mother and I that he’d do his best to save my leg but was unaware how deep the infection was. He explained that if it were in the bone, the only way to ensure recovery would be to remove the entire bone itself. My mother and I were shocked. We didn’t know in what condition I would leave that operation room, as it could have lead to a further life-altering outcome. But I awoke hours later, very gratefully to two fully intact legs and one step closer to recovery.

I would be medevaced back to the U.S. after two weeks in an English hospital, 20 lbs lighter. Right before I left, the doctor mentioned that had I not been in the physical condition of a collegiate level athlete, he wasn’t sure if this outcome would’ve been the same. Back in Boston, my wound was closed officially and I used crutches for six weeks following the final surgery, allowing the stitches to heal.

 

My encounter with MRSA happened because of the antibiotic resistant strain of my staph infection. Its resistance allowed it to go untreated, despite medications, for long enough to truly take a toll on my health and come close to claiming it.

Through my personal account, I truly hope readers recognize the danger of antibiotic resistance and will have heightened self-awareness and ability to advocate for the proper care of not only themselves, but also for others.

 

Signs of Staphylococcus aureus and MRSA infections 1:

(cannot diagnose or differentiate visually)

Localized area that -

  • May appear to be a spider bite, irritated ingrown hair, pimple
  • Redness
  • Irritation
  • Presence of pus or drainage
  • Warm to touch
  • Fever

 

How Can It Spread? 1

  • Skin to skin contact
  • Especially vulnerable to infection when wounds or openings in the skin are present

 

How to Prevent Its Spread:1

  • Keep all wounds clean and covered
  • Wash hands regularly
  • Avoid sharing personal belongings such as razors, towels, etc
  • If you notice a potential infection, seek care to ensure whether or not it is MRSA

 

More Information Concerning MRSA:

  1. http://www.cdc.gov/mrsa/community/index.html
  2. http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dph/programs/id/epidemiology/providers/mrsa/methicillin-resistant-staphylococcus-aureus-mrsa.html#3
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