Local health care workers are urging Citrus County residents to use compulsive hand-washing - along with other measures - to safeguard themselves against a prevalent superbug that's making the rounds.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a type of staph infection, has become increasingly common throughout the country.
MRSA can cause everything from impetigo to blood infections.
While people generally associate the bug with health care settings, community-acquired MRSA can be transmitted anywhere - such as in a locker room or at the grocery store.
"People from all walks of life, all ages can get MRSA," said Rosemary Barker, infection control nurse at Citrus Memorial Health System. "I've seen it in 30-day-old babies and high school athletes."
After encountering a number of locals with MRSA infections, Barker started organizing an education campaign about five months ago.
Working with the Citrus County Health Department and Seven Rivers Regional Medical Center, she put together presentations explaining how MRSA was transmitted and what the long-term consequences could be.
There are two main strains of MRSA. One is most commonly acquired in health care settings, while the other can show up throughout the community.
Each strain has become resistant to most conventional antibiotics, which means they can be treated only with exceptionally powerful medications, what Barker called "the big guns."
The concern is that the MRSA strains will become resistant to these last resorts as well, or combine and mutate with another potent bug.
"It could become almost impossible to treat," Barker said.
That's a potentially dire situation, depending on the location of the infection.
"MRSA can just be a boil, or it can be a bloodstream infection, which could be fatal," she said.
Hospital-acquired MRSA is generally resistant to a larger number of antibiotics, but the community-acquired version is more potent and easily transmitted.
"Down the road, the concern is community-acquired MRSA will build up more resistance," she said. "Since it's easily spread and more potent, it could spread throughout the community and become a difficult organism to treat."
That's what Barker and her health care partners are working to prevent.
They've already given presentations at their respective institutions, outlining the best ways to treat and prevent MRSA. Examples include "don't insist your doctor give you antibiotics," "take good care of your boo-boos" and "wash your hands, wash your hands and wash your hands."
They're in the process of planning more educational sessions throughout the county.
"People need to understand that MRSA isn't just a problem in hospitals," Barker said. "The slightest contact can spread MRSA."
Elena Lesley can be reached at email@example.com or 564-3627.