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Faster, stronger, deadlier: the MRSA superbug

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus -- or MRSA for short -- is the subject of journalist Maryn McKenna's new book Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA (Free Press, March 2010). She spoke with Reuters Health on Thursday about the bacteria's toll on public health and how we may, unwittingly, be helping a new strain along (see more here with-maryn-mckenna-author-of-superbug-the-fatal-menace-of-mrsa/).

"One of the problems with MRSA, one of the reasons why it's become what I consider a true crisis, is that I really don't think we've been taking it sufficiently seriously for a very long time," McKenna said.

MRSA first crossed the Atlantic in 1968, landing in what used to be called Boston City Hospital. Then it inched its way across the country until 1980, when it infected a burn victim at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle and caused a devastating outbreak.

"For more than a year, it hop-scotched from patient to patient," McKenna explained. "Eventually they closed both the (intensive-care unit) and the burn unit and built new ones, and still had new cases."

"That was the outbreak that really demonstrated how serious hospital infections with MRSA could be. Nevertheless, that was 30 years ago. American healthcare is still locked in a death struggle over what really are the best strategies for controlling MRSA and other drug-resistant organisms in hospitals."

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