"Superbug" MRSA Bacteria Spread in Homes

Households serve as a major source of new infections of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), according to a study led by researchers from Columbia's College of Physicians & Surgeons.

Often dubbed a "superbug" for its ability to cause invasive and sometimes fatal infections, MRSA is usually associated with public spaces such as hospitals, schools, and gyms. But the the Columbia researchers found that the drug-resistant bacteria are common in households and frequently exchanged among household members.

"These results support a 'search and destroy' approach targeting not only infected patients but also their household members and home environment,"

the authors write in their paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings were made possible by new genomics techniques that allowed the researchers to track the spread of the bacteria through the communities of Northern Manhattan and parts of the Bronx.

Since the late 1980s, MRSA has caused an unprecedented epidemic of skin and soft tissue infections. Five to 10 percent of these infections are invasive and potentially fatal.

Antibiotic use may be contributing to the resistance of MRSA in the United States, the authors add. About half of the noninfected individuals in the study report using antibiotics in the previous six months.

"We have to limit our antibiotic use because the consequences may really be a lot of collateral damage,"

said one of the study's lead authors, Anne-Catrin Uhlemann, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine, in a Nature news article.