Staph victim speaks out

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November 9, 2007

3:25 PM

We have all seen the headlines. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus has taken over, infecting students across the nation.

p. MRSA hit home at the College, hospitalizing a freshman girl. We were instructed to wash our hands and clothes frequently and not to share toiletries. This “new” superbug spread like the plague across Virginia. Anti-bacterial soap sales have skyrocketed and Purell can be found everywhere on campus from the Student Health Center to the dean’s office. Despite the hype, most of the attention surrounding staph was laughable to me, but maybe that was because I was the one hooked up to an IV receiving treatment for it.

p. Don’t worry, you will not be infected by reading this column.
Staph should not be ignored by any means, but the media hype is a bit overdone with reports that tend to be misleading and instill more fear than education.

p. In reality, staph is everywhere. It is carried on the skin and inside the nostrils — not unlike many other germs. We can freak out, but at the end of the day there is little we can do. You won’t become “infected” by skin-to-skin contact unless you have an open wound.

p. I never questioned the severity of my infection, nor did I ignore it. My health has always been a top priority, but some things are beyond my control.

p. After spending a week in Sentara Medical Center, I experienced things pre-med students would have killed to observe. I was a headliner and treated as if I had the bubonic plague. While the outside world lamented my plight, mainly because they feared for their lives, I was old news to Sentara’s medical staff who told me I wasn’t that special. They had seen staph before.

p. If staph is not a new phenomenon, why have there been so many outbreaks all of a sudden? In an effort to rid the world of germs, our society has created its own worst enemy: antibiotic resistance. Our bodies are equipped to fight off germs and slowly they build immunities to them. Problems arise when modern medicine becomes ineffective against the bacteria because it has developed resistance to antibiotics.

p. While sleeping eight hours a night and eating well help fight infection and build strong bodies, we reverse these efforts each time we take antibiotics we don’t need. As children, many of us were prescribed antibiotics when we showed signs of a runny nose. Instead of allowing our bodies to build resistance, our parents, who didn’t want to deal with sick children for a few days, sacrificed our future ability to ward off more serious infections.
The constant presence of antibiotics and antibacterial soaps and solutions fuel the fire. Darwin was onto something with his whole natural selection thing. The germs are winning the battle in the survival of the fittest.

p. Fortunately, I was immediately given high doses of Vancomycin, one of the only antibiotics equipped to battle staph. What would have happened if I was unable to obtain or tolerate the medication? Although it has been reported that there is volcanic clay in France that can cure staph, one day such resources may not exist. Moreover, we cannot afford to ignore its potential future impact as it evolves into an even more harmful antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

p. Even as a victim, I do not fear staph and neither should you.

p. __Joanna Sandager is a freshman at the College.__

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