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HealthWatch: MRSA

NEW YORK (CBS 2) -- Superbugs, MRSA, flesh-eating bacteria, you've probably heard a lot about these frightening antibiotic-resistant infections. It used to be you only saw them in the hospital, but now people are catching these nasty germs in the community.

CBS 2HD's Dr. Max reports on what to watch out for, what the infections look like, and what can happen if they're not treated. He recently had a first-hand experience with MRSA on his elbow.

"Of course I knew intellectually what a bacterial skin infection can do and what it looks like, but even I was surprised at how fast it can move and how hard it is to get rid of," Dr. Gomez said.

It's been a little over two weeks and he's just getting over it.

"As we see here, you have some redness and swelling in the elbow region," Dr. Adam Schaffner of the JUVA Skin & Laser Center told Dr. Gomez.

That's an understatement. Ten days after the infection started it was still hot, red and swollen, but it used to be more than twice as big.

Instead the problem was, as Dr. Schaffner explained, "there's fluid there, and that collection of fluid has led to the spread of the infection, not only in that area but further up as well."

"What you can't see is hot and tender the elbow is. The really bad news is that when some of the fluid inside the infection was cultured in the lab, it grew out MRSA, which stands for Methicillin Resistant Staph Aureus - a fancy way of saying a strain of bacteria that isn't easily killed, even with most antibiotics," Dr. Gomez said.

Just how bad is MRSA? "It can start destroying tissues, the skin, muscle below it, and it basically eats up everything in its path. So it can really be a very serious infection," said Dr. Bruce Katz of the Center.

It used to be doctors only saw MRSA in hospitals or medical settings where only the strongest, most resistant germs could survive, but increasingly, the superbugs are being found out in the community.

"It's not clear where I picked up the MRSA, although given as much time as I spend reporting in hospitals, its not that surprising. The first and second antibiotics I took, my infection was resistant to, and now I have a fluid-filled abscess on my elbow," Dr. Gomez said.

"When you have infected fluid locked into a certain space in a tissue, anti-biotics can't get to them," Dr. Katz said.

That means cutting it open, draining the fluid and packing it with anti-bacterial gauze to keep it from filling up again, and finally getting on an antibiotic that Dr. Gomez' staph bug was sensitive to.

"The fact that you really knew what was going on there and you had treatment right away, you got on the right antibiotic, really got it very quickly, otherwise it could of really been a serious problem," Dr. Katz told Dr. Gomez.

What was really amazing was how fast the infection grew. "On a Sunday morning I was fine. A few hours later my elbow was starting to hurt. By that night it was already hot and swollen," Dr. Gomez said.

If you have a sore that gets red, hot or swollen, if the redness spreads or forms streaks away from the sore, get to a doctor right away.

"Delay for a day or even hours can be deadly but prompt treatment usually means complete recovery, I'm happy to say," Dr. Gomez said.

But how does the bacteria get in there in the first place?

"The skin is a marvelous barrier to germs, but if you get a cut, a scrape, a bug bite, almost anything that breaks the skin can allow bacteria to gain a foothold. In my case, I was at fault. I was at my computer, with a nervous habit of picking at my elbow. I sort of self-innoculated myself with the bacteria that, like most people, I normally have on my skin. That's all it took," Dr. Gomez said.

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