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Bacteria that live on our bodies normally are called “commensal bacteria”. Our bodies are protected by a network of extremely sophisticated defenses, the immune system. Commensal bacteria are controlled by the immune system, and are prevented from getting to places in the body where they could cause problems (i.e., infection).

However, if our defenses are broken – for example, through a deep cut in the skin or a surgical wound; or in certain conditions which stop the immune system from working properly – then commensals like S. aureus and MRSA can break away from immune system control, grow uncontrollably and cause infections.

MRSA can therefore cause infections, and because it is often resistant to many of the antibiotics we use, it is more difficult to kill than other bacteria – hence being called a “superbug”.

Infections with MRSA will often look the same as infections with “normal” S. aureus. So, historically, when infection happened, a patient would be treated with antibiotics that would work against normal S. aureus. Because MRSA is resistant to these antibiotics, it would not be affected by the antibiotic; so, the infection would get much worse over time – sometimes resulting in death of the patient. MRSA has been implicated in deaths of up to 5000 human patients a year in the UK (many more internationally). The number of animal deaths it is involved in is unknown.

These days, any suspicious infection in a human hospital will be sampled to check if MRSA is involved. If it is identified early enough, MRSA can be treated successfully – in both humans and animals.


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All about infections



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