Staph infection and its evil sibling MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, are of deep concern in the medical world. The bacteria’s ubiquitous nature, uncanny hardiness, ability to evolve and potential for causing very serious health issues—including death—are reasons you should know about staph and MRSA if you’re considering plastic surgery.
The first thing to understand about Staphylococcus aureus is that the bacterium is everywhere. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s very common on the skin and inside the nose of healthy people and most often poses no problem as long as immune systems are up to par. But bacteria can invade the body through cuts and abrasions, and when you’re vulnerable due to illness or a medical procedure, your system may not be able to fight off staph.
Plastic surgery can increase the risk of staph infection due to the one-two punch of surgical wounds and the fact that your immune system will work extra hard to help you recover. Staphylococcus aureus can travel to internal organs through the breathing tube, IV tube and catheter your plastic surgeon may use during your procedure.
The second worrisome thing about staph is its incredible resiliency. It can survive many of the common weapons used to eradicate bacteria, including high temperature, dryness and salt. It can survive a long time on towels, sheets and pillowcases, even through washing cycles. The Mayo Clinic says, “Despite vigorous attempts to eradicate them, staph bacteria remain widespread in hospitals,” attacking vulnerable patients.
The third attribute of staph is one that confounds the medical community: its ability to evolve to resist antibiotics. Once treated with penicillin, staph infections now require different antibiotics. MRSA, shorthand for strains of bacteria that became resistant to methicillin and other antibiotics, may respond to drugs such as erythromycin and ciprofloxacin, but there are reports that MRSA is becoming resistant to some of these choices as well. For those with MRSA, treatment is often an uncertain trial-and-error proposition that can require hospitalization and drugs administered intravenously.