MRSA in U.S. becoming resistant to over the counter ointment
September 14th, 2011
03:00 PM ET

MRSA in U.S. becoming resistant to over the counter ointment

Frequent use of over-the-counter anti-bacterial ointments in the United States may be leading to a new, antimicrobial resistant strain of MRSA, a study published Wednesday in Emerging Infectious Diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s monthly peer-reviewed journal.

Japanese researchers made the finding after testing 259 MRSA strains for susceptibility to bacitracin and neomycin, two of the antibacterial ingredients commonly found in over-the-counter ointments like Neosporin and Polysporin. Resistance to bacitracin and neomycin was only found in USA300, a type of MRSA found in the United States.

Masahiro Suzuki, with the Aichi Prefectural Institute of Public Health in Nagoya, Japan, said the triple antibiotic ointment is rarely used outside North America. That led his research team to conclude there may be a link between the frequent use of the over-the-counter treatment and the this MRSA strain becoming antibiotic-resistant.

“People should understand that triple antibiotic is not almighty, and avoid preventive or excessive use of this ointment,” Suzuki said in an e-mail to CNN.

MRSA, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, results most commonly in skin  infections. It use to be mainly transmitted in hospitals but is now increasingly acquired in community settings like athletic facilities.  For some a MRSA infection can be deadly.

MRSA resulted in 278,000 hospitalizations and more than 18,000 deaths in 2005, according to one study, with most of those infections coming from health care facilities. An estimated 1.5% of the U.S. population – more than 4 million Americans – are now carriers of the bacteria.

MRSA infections have been a problem in hospitals for more than four decades, but a recent study suggests the infection rate is declining in the United States.  MRSA is resistant to common antibiotics like penicillin and amoxicillin.

The USA300 strain of MRSA can still be treated with vancomycin and other drugs, but doctors in the United States should be aware “the ointment therapy may not be effective in USA300 infections,” Suzuki said.

To prevent MRSA in health care facilities, the CDC recommends doctors, nurses and other health care providers wash their hands and wear and gown and gloves while taking care of patients with MRSA. The CDC also recommends that rooms and equipment are thoroughly cleaned. MRSA can spread from person to person and via bed linens, bed rails, bathroom fixtures, and medical equipment.

The CDC recommends athletes do not to share items that come in contact with the skin such as towels, soap, razors. The health agency also recommends athletes wear protective clothing designed to prevent abrasions and cuts, and shower or wash immediately after using shared equipment like weights or exercise equipment.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.