Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Oprah, Dr. Oz cover "superbugs"


Today, partly out of sudden public concern about the swine flu, Oprah Winfrey today broadcast a program with Dr. Mehmet Oz on “superbugs”. The best link seems to be here.

The first topic was flesh-eating bacteria. The show presented a woman who was cut working at a restaurant, and in some hours or days, had a super-infection that quickly escalated. Doctors saw her flesh dissolve before their eyes. She lost an arm, a shoulder, breasts, and even ribs, and showed the largest surgical scar ever on television. The bacteria are usually streptococci, similar to those that cause strep throat or scarlet fever. Certain subspecies give out toxins that “dissolve” flesh.

There are other ways people lose limbs to bacteria. Certain kinds of meningitis bacteria give off toxins that block blood vessels, sometimes leaving to multiple amputations in young adult victims, which is one reason that campuses are starting to require vaccination.

The next topic was MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Dr. Oz explained in a video how MRSA grows when overuse of antibiotics kills off competing bacteria. NBA star Grant Hill gave the story of an injury, ankle surgery, and ugly infection that led to a hole in his leg. One parent described the loss of an eleven-year old girl from a cut. MRSA tends to cause disease suddenly and randomly, striking one or two people using a sports locker room and sparing everyone else. About 20% of the population has MRSA on the skin or in the nose. It could cause infection in these people after a cut, but it seems that many people are in some kind of immune equilibrium with it and do not become ill.

Hospitals routinely do nasal swabs on new patients, and place those positive in isolation, requiring gowns and gloves for entry into the patient’s room. But in many cases the patients do not seem to be harmed by the bacteria, but others could be if it spreads.

I had a bizarre dental infection in late 2004, resulting in massive swelling of my left jaw. A cat scan was ordered. There seemed to be a tiny seed that got in through a periodontal space and got down below the nerve track. I was treated with clindamycin, which cleared the swelling, and it did not return, so my body has apparently developed some immunity to the residual bacteria, which I believe was a staph aureus. If I were ever to become HIV-positive, I think the infection would return. I have intermittent slight numbness on the chin from this (and “numb chin” is normally a warning sign of malignancy, such as with the medical link.

The last segment of the show dealt with brain surgery for morbid obesity.

Dr. Oz has spoken about swine flu to the media. Here is a typical video appearance on ABC News.

The attribution link for the CDC picture of MRSA is here.

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