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A New Scary Germ

MRSA: The Danger, Part 1

By Christopher Caile

A close up view of the MRSA staph bacteria seen through an electron microscope.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two part article on MRSA. Part 1 introduces the subject and its dangers. Part 2 of the series is titled “MRSA: Recognition and Prevention” and discusses the symptoms, how it spreads and how to protect yourself.

The recent death of a Brooklyn New York middle school student attributed to a MRSA bacterial infection sent shock waves across the nation. Parents suddenly voiced worry over the threat and schools from New York to California frantically cleaned and disinfected their facilities.

The reason for the fear? MRSA. It stands for Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus -- an especially virulent variant of staph bacterium that is immune to antibiotics called beta-lactams. Beta-lactam antibiotics include methicillin and other more common antibiotics such as oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin.

MRSA is susceptible, however, to a number of antibiotics, just not the usual ones prescribed. Sulfonamides, for example, are effective. The most common sulfa drug used from this category is
Bactrim, the brand name for trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole. But some people are allergic to sulfa products.

A staph infection of the cheek. Skin infections should be carefully monitored. If the infection does not clear up relatively quickly, it could be MRSA. Be sure to get medical follow-up quickly since MRSA can be stubborn, especially if it breaks through the skin into the body system.

Complicating the situation is the way MRSA works in some cases. A recent Reuter’s news story on November 17, 2007 titled, “Drug-resistant bacteria found to trick immune system,” noted how MRSA may first lure and then destroy immune system cells when they are the most vulnerable.
MRSA, the article noted, is common. It usually only causes pimples or boils, and some infections can spread to surrounding tissue. But some strains of MRSA can mutate into a much more series condition that tricks the immune system. And here is the danger.

These strains of MRSA lure white blood cells that ordinarily kill bacteria, and then lyses or explodes them. This can cause boils, infect bones and destroy them, and also attack the heart valves. They release poisons (toxins) which can cause septic shock. This shuts down the organs and can cause death.

It is for this reason that infections, even those of the skin, should be carefully monitored. If it can get through the skin barrier via an abrasion, cut, or break in the skin, internally MRSA can become a real threat if not treated promptly.
Historically MRSA was primarily confined to nursing homes and hospitals. But recent reports also trace a seemingly growing number of infections to schools, prisons, military training facilities and even health clubs.

At about the same time as the Brooklyn incident, for example, there were outbreaks of this infection among teenagers and small children in other states, including California, Ohio, Mississippi, and Florida.

But is MRSA actually spreading, or has the press just raised awareness of something that has been around for a long time?

In one TV news report segment I witnessed, a medical expert said not to get too excited about this threat. “There aren’t really more incidents, it is just that we are now more aware of the problem.” His advice? “Just wash your hands.”

“This simply is not true,” says Dr. Sandra Sattin, a Maryland doctor specializing in family medicine interviewed for this article. “It’s everywhere, probably because of the overuse of antibiotics. Up to 60 percent of the skin infections in emergency rooms for those who are not of high risk are methicillin resistant.”

MRSA while dangerous is also a symptom. A recent New York Times editorial on the subject noted that it is “only the latest manifestation of a very dangerous problem: the development of bacterial strains that are resistant to many antibiotics,” something that affected over 94,300 people in 2005. The editorial concluded that the growing evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria needs to be tackled broadly.

MRSA is among a family of staph bacteria that are commonly carried on the skin and in the nose (about one percent of people carry MRSA, and less virulent strains of staph can exist in 24 percent of the population). Once a person is colonized with MRSA, however, it is almost impossible to eradicate, And since it is usually spread by direct contact with other people, martial artists such as mixed martial artists, judo practitioners, karate-ka, wrestlers, jujutsu or aikido practitioners or anyone who engages in direct physical contact could be vulnerable.

Whether its incidence is more frequent or not, MRSA should not be ignored, especially by martial artists whose environment can be optimal to the spread of this menace (see part 2 of this article). You as a martial artist should know what to look for, know how MRSA is spread and how to protect yourself. These same measures, it turns out, can also go a long way toward avoiding other common dangers found in public places, such as cold germs, fungus infections, hepatitis C and blood borne pathogens (see the articles on this subject).

Disclaimer: This article is written for educational purposes only and should not be taken as a definitive medical statement or definition of MRSA or staph, their dangers, symptoms, diagnoses or treatment. This article seeks only to raise the reader’s awareness about the potential dangers of MRSA and staph within the martial arts environment and stimulate the reader’s own research into and awareness about these potential problems.


The second photo in this article was provided by MetroWest CleanGear offers an effective new way to clean, disinfect and deodorize athletic equipment and gear (including MRSA) processed by their cleaning facilities without damage.

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About The Author:

Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of He has been a student of the martial arts for over 50 years and a teacher of karate since 1962. He is the author of over 300 articles and columns on the martial arts and editor of several martial arts books. Over the last 20 years he has conducts seminars on street self-defense to community and student groups in both the United States and Canada. His seminars topics also include his specialty areas of kata applications and joint locks and other jujutsu-like techniques found within karate. Caile started his martial arts career in judo. Then he added karate as a student of Phil Koeppel in 1959. Caile introduced karate to Finland in 1960 and then hitch-hiked eastward. In Japan (1961) he studied under Mas Oyama and later in the US became a Kyokushinkai Branch Chief. In 1976 he followed Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura when he formed Seido karate and is now a 6th degree black belt (Sei Shihan) in that organization's honbu dojo (NYC). He is also Sensei in Wadokai Aikido under Roy Suenaka Sensei. Other experience includes diato-ryu aikijujutsu, Hakuho-Ryu Aiki-jujutsu, kenjutsu, kobudo, Shinto Muso-ryu jodo, kobudo, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts including Praying Mantis, Pak Mei (White Eyebrow), Wing Chun, Chin Na and Shuai Chiao. He is also a student of Zen. A long-term student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong, he is a personal disciple of the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.). He holds an M.A. in International Relations from American University in Washington D.C. and has traveled extensively through South and Southeast Asia. He frequently returns to Japan and Okinawa to continue his studies in the martial arts, their history and tradition. In his professional life he has been a businessman, newspaper journalist, inventor and entrepreneur.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

staph,Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, health and martial arts

Read more articles by Christopher Caile

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