Oct 22, 2007
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria killed a 17-year-old high school student in suburban Washington, D.C. recently. It’s a sign that such infections have become a major health problem across the country.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this particular staph infection, known as MRSA, has caused more than 94,000 serious infections and almost 19,000 deaths each year since 2005. That’s almost twice as many deaths as were caused by the AIDS virus in the U.S. It’s more common than well-known infections like strep, flesh-eating bacteria, meningitis and bacterial pneumonia combined.
MRSA can pass from person to person through simple contact, and it can enter the body through open cuts and broken skin. Turning those cuts into huge open sores, it can spread through the body, shutting down major organs.
MRSA may be resistant to antibiotics, but it is very vulnerable to simple public health measures – that is, the systematic use of soap and water.
This bacteria was first found in populations most despised by this system, in areas gutted by budget cuts and worsening conditions: inner-city hospitals and prisons. Cut-backs in janitorial staff meant fewer surfaces got cleaned adequately. Work piled up on staff meant fewer washed their hands adequately. The push to cut workers in such facilities allowed this new strain to take root and to fester.
Today, the same thing is happening in nursing homes, day care centers and schools across the country – where janitorial staff have been cut back and rented out. Sanitary conditions have grown far worse. Areas where bacteria can run rampant – bathrooms, showers, locker rooms and gyms – invite an epidemic if they aren’t cleaned regularly.
In this wealthy capitalist society, with its 21st century medicine, we’re being killed by bacteria spread by poor sanitary conditions like those of the 18th century.