By Lauren Hoskin

So, most people have heard of the infamous MRSA, but how many people actually know what it is? MRSA is short for Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, so let’s find out what that jumble of gobbledegook means…

Staphylococcus aureus (Staph aureus for short) is a very common and not necessarily harmful bacteria, typically found on the skin of about 30% of the population, and also often at the back of the throat and nasal cavity. It lives in harmony with many healthy individuals- but is also a sneaky opportunistic microbe; when the bodily defences are broken or the immune system is weakened, it can move in and cause an infection.

Staph aureus causes many common infections such as pimples and boils, wound infections and food poisoning, as well as extremely serious life threatening infections like pneumonia, meningitis and toxic shock syndrome. It causes disease by producing toxins that circulate through the body and destroy cells and tissues. Staph aureus also unfortunately spreads between patients with no difficulty whatsoever, and can be transferred to many people as easily as a sneeze.

In the past, Staph aureus infections were frequently treated using the antibiotic methicillin.  This antibiotic works by inhibiting a vital enzyme which is needed to build cell walls. With no cell wall the bacteria cannot survive. The only way to survive in the presence of methicillin is to mutate.

MRSA is hence a strain of Staph aureus that is resistant to methicillin and several other powerful antibiotics, making it especially powerful. This mutated strain of Staph aureus employs different enzymes to build the cell walls, which are not hindered by methicillin. Because the non-resistant strains die off, MRSA flourishes in the uncompetitive environment and is often even stronger than normal Staph aureus.

Staph aureus has all the attributes of a great superbug. It is highly prevalent in society, can spread from patient to patient very easily, and its mutant cousin is now resistant to a large number of common and powerful antibiotics.  This is why it has become such a large problem.

Relentless sterilization and patient screening are seemingly simple, yet very successful methods of tackling MRSA. This is because reducing the spread through hospitals is the first port of call when fighting a superbug like this. A recent study showed that these methods have helped to reduce rates by 95% within the last 9 years, so let’s hope coming years will see MRSA reduced by 100%.