published Sunday, June 1st, 2014

MRSA and me: Treating MRSA meant isolation, painstaking disinfection

In March, I was diagnosed with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Better known as MRSA.

The potentially serious staph infection manifested in a tiny, insignificant pimple above my left knee. I immediately suspected MRSA.

Why? Just a month earlier, my young grandson had a tiny little pimple on his right inner thigh that his pediatrician identified as MRSA. It was a diagnosis that, for a short time, turned my world upside down.

Like many people today, when you want to learn more about something, you "Google" it. And I did. For hours I read website after website about MRSA, MRSA and children and so forth. I also googled MRSA images. Big mistake. I was terrified. Although these days MRSA can be treated fairly easily, without proper treatment it is potentially life-threatening.

MRSA is mostly spread through skin-to-skin contact, but it can live on inanimate objects, too, I learned. I took extra care not to touch my grandson's wound when bathing him or changing the dressing. I wore disposable gloves. I changed him on disposable pads. I covered the wound with sterile bandages and made sure he wore long pants to cover the bandage.

And, very importantly, I washed my hands and used a hand sanitizer dozens of times throughout the two weeks it took the pimple to heal.

I washed his sheets every morning. I cleaned all his toys with sterile wipes each night after he went to bed. I worked from home for two weeks to care for him. I did not allow him to be around other family members. He eventually was cleared by the doctor to be free of MRSA.

So when my "pimple" appeared, I wasn't surprised. It's not unusual for MRSA to spread to other family members within a household, despite the extra care one takes to prevent it from happening. Still, my infectious disease physician, Dr. Mark Anderson, told me he's not certain that I contracted it from my grandson. He says I could have been exposed at the store, at work, basically anywhere. He says 40 percent of the population carries around a colony of staph bacteria on their skin, and that's why the medical profession preaches about the importance of washing your hands.

The day after I noticed the pimple on my leg, I stopped at a doc-in-the-box on my way to work. The physician's assistant immediately suspected MRSA. She lanced it, cultured it and sent it to a lab. I went home instead of the office. One week later, it was confirmed. It was MRSA.

Because MRSA is such a highly contagious infection, my editor and I decided it was probably best I work from home until there was no longer any drainage from the wound. I work in close proximity with my fellow journalists, and we didn't want to take the chance of it spreading. So for the next week, I worked from home.

It was a lot easier taking care of myself than a toddler. I didn't have to disinfect toys every night or wipe down every place I touched because I was constantly washing my hands. I made sure the infected area was properly bandaged and covered.

The hardest part of having MRSA was the isolation. I quarantined myself because I didn't want to spread it. And, to be honest, nobody wanted to be around me, either. I get that.

I was thrilled when Anderson gave me the thumbs up to go back to work, socialize and be around my family again. He told me he sees MRSA nearly 10 times a week in healthy people like myself. It also occurs across all social and income levels and age groups, he says.

And though I'm healed, it's not to say I won't get MRSA again. That's the part that's not easy to live with. Every time I see a little pimple on me, my husband or my grandchildren, I immediately suspect MRSA. If it comes back, it's not something that will go away without treatment.

Meanwhile, I'm washing my hands a lot more these days and I'm paying attention. MRSA is always on my mind.

Contact Karen Nazor Hill at khill@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6396.

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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