The spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria — also known as superbugs — continues with a recent study, finding that methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), once most populous in hospitals, is now becoming more present in the common household.

MRSA was labeled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a serious threat — only one level below the most serious — to the public health last year. Up until about two decades ago, populations of the infectious bug were found only in health care and agricultural settings. They soon spread to the wider community, affecting public areas. So, it’s no surprise that eventually they would make their way into households around the country.

The new study, from researchers at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, found that the homes of 161 city residents who contracted MRSA infections were “major reservoirs” for the superbug. The strain of the bug, USA300, is a major cause of the infections across the U.S., and, in these people’s households, it was prevalent on various surfaces. They also took bacterial samples from these people’s family members and found that they were carrying MRSA with similar genetic makeups — there was more variability between samples from different homes.

“What our findings show is it’s also endemic in households,” lead researcher Dr. Anne-Catrin Uhlemann told HealthDay. The findings offer a good framework for how to track the spread of the bacteria, the researchers wrote. That’s because they were also able to find reservoirs of MRSA in-between affected households, completing a network of transmission.

The bacteria spreads through basically anything it touches, from bedding to kitchen appliances, and while the way it transfers from surface to surface is not “well delineated,” it’s suggested that any contaminated item be washed with bleach and hot water, CBS reported. “We can’t just treat the person with the infection,” Uhlemann told HealthDay. “We have to attempt to remove the colonization from the home.”

Yet, even scientists are struggling to figure out how to reduce the number of bacterial infections from these superbugs. Across the U.S. overuse of antibiotics has led to rapidly mutating bacteria that are able to immunize themselves to antibiotics. As more of them become immune, fewer antibiotics work, and infection rates rise. Health care experts across the nation have been urging doctors to limit their use of the valuable drugs. Although rates of MRSA infections have dropped by about 50 percent in hospital settings, their spread elsewhere will continue to be a concern, along with the hundreds of other superbugs.   

 

Source: Uhlemann A, Dordel J, Knox J, et al. Molecular tracing of the emergence, diversification, and transmission of S. aureus sequence type 8 in a New York community. PNAS. 2014.