Number of Staph Infections Rising

Local emergency rooms are reporting a rising number of staph infections. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, most people think of staph as something you acquire during a lengthy hospital stay, but it can also be spread in the community.

Click to Listen

A community-acquired staph infection usually starts out looking like a pimple. But Dr. Jeff Kalina, The Methodist Hospital's ER associate medical director, says people should be able to tell when there's a more serious infection.

"People tend to wait too long to come to see a doctor with these infections. They wait until these things become golf ball-sized and they need to be incised and drained when, quite frankly, people would notice that they have a pimple that's starting to get bigger would seek antibiotic treatment, may not even require to have a scalpel cutting the skin open."

About ten years ago, Kalina says he began to notice a rise in community-acquired staph infections, which differ from the staph infections most people associate with extremely ill people or long hospitalizations. In fact, he says anecdotally he's seen the numbers rising.

"It's probably been sub-epidemic, if not epidemic for years. People just don't realize how widespread it it. I feel like the incidence of these abcesses is increasing vastly over the last year or so."

The staph infection is inhaled through the nose and that's where the infection is carried, in the nostrils. But Kalina says it spreads easily through skin to skin contact or contact with contaminated surfaces like gym equipment, so hand-washing and hygiene are the best preventions.

"Good antiseptic technique, certainly good hygiene is of the utmost. And secondly, if you start getting abcesses, go see a doctor, get these abcesses drained and get put on some suppressive antibiotics to a) knock out the infection and b) knock out your carrier state."

An estimated ten to 15 percent of the population are carriers of community-acquired staph. Most people don't develop severe symptoms, but if it spreads and goes untreated it can result in serious illness and hospitalization. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...