A gripping account of one of the most devastating infectious agents on the planet.
MRSA, short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, was once considered the exclusive bane of hospitalized patients, who were already weakened by disease or surgery, and hence prey to any infectious organism able to survive and adapt to the array of disease-fighting drugs used in health-care settings. Methicillin is an antibiotic that was first hailed as the successor to penicillin, designed to dispatch the bugs that had grown resistant to the first antibiotic. And so it did—until the bugs outwitted it. In time, strains of MRSA appeared not only in sick patients, but also in healthy people who had never been near a hospital. Science journalist McKenna (Beating Back the Devil: On the Front Lines with the Disease Detectives of the Epidemic Intelligence Service, 2004) writes that the first reports of community-based MRSA were scoffed at by the medical profession. The doctors assumed that the community patients had acquired infection from a bug that had escaped from the hospital. The strains were different, however, and so was their profile of drug resistance. McKenna traces a 50-year history of antibiotic-drug development and drug resistance, coming to the dismal conclusion that it’s a war we are losing. MRSA infections now kill nearly 20,000 Americans each year, and an estimated 4.4 million are colonized with the bug. Compounding the problem are the difficulties in hospital infection control—just getting staff to wash their hands between patients has proven a formidable hurdle. Testing all hospital admissions and isolating carriers has been effective, but the process is costly and comes with its own side effects—patients are left alone and have fewer check-ups by a staff that requires new gloves and gowns each time. Big Pharma has not helped, since companies see greater profit in drugs for chronic diseases. McKenna suggests that vaccines might be the answer, but it seems a distant hope—and too late for the patients whose heartbreaking stories she tells.
A meticulously researched, frightening report on a deadly pathogen.