Bill would fund staph prevention

October 25, 2007|By Delthia Ricks | Delthia Ricks,NEWSDAY

NEW YORK -- The rising incidence of drug-resistant staph infections has prompted a bipartisan federal measure that would provide $5 million in emergency funding to combat a potentially lethal agent that increasingly is emerging in schools, gyms and day-care centers.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, called on President Bush yesterday to drop his threat to veto a bill that provides money for public education campaigns aimed at preventing the spread of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

For years, MRSA was a threat to people in hospitals and nursing homes, but now it has moved into communities, causing infections among otherwise healthy people.

The bacterium thwarts methicillin, the bolder cousin of penicillin, as well as antibiotics in the more potent drug family known as the cephlasporins. MRSA can be prevented through basic hygiene, such as frequent hand-washing.

The new bill would provide money to fund public education campaigns that spread the word on prevention.

The bill will be considered by a joint House and Senate conference committee before moving to the president.

Last week, a study by epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 94,000 people become infected with MRSA annually in the United States and nearly 19,000 people die of the infections. A Virginia teen died last week of an untreatable MRSA infection, and eight high school students in New Jersey were diagnosed with tough-to-treat MRSA infections yesterday, Schumer said.

"This deadly staph infection hit New York families, schools and communities like a ton of bricks," he said. "This funding will go a long way to help the feds prevent new cases of this terrible bug from appearing in New York and eradicate it once and for all. I hope the president will lift his veto threat so the CDC doesn't have to wait another minute for these vital resources."

Schumer said eradicating MRSA should be put above politics.

Dr. Bruce Hirsch, a specialist in infectious diseases at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., said many people carry staph bacteria on their skin and in their noses without complications. However, the misuse, abuse and overuse of antibiotics has created a drug-resistant form of the bug that cannot be easily quelled.

"Staph aureus is all over the place," Hirsch said, referring to the bug's ubiquity. "It's in 30 percent of us and we're fine; the human body is strong and adaptive."

In people with weakened immunity or open wounds, MRSA can be a problem, Hirsch said, because it can be tough to fight. He said the resistant organism's prevalence is driven by the unnecessary use of antibiotics.

"We can't afford unnecessary antibiotics. We also can't afford the complications," Hirsch said.

Delthia Ricks writes for Newsday.

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