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MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus)

Most strains of the Staphylococcus bacterium are harmless, some even beneficial, but when a colony reaches the point of making us sick, we get a staph infection.  Most staph infections can be cured with antibiotics but one very disturbing strain, the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) type, can become deadly in a very short period of time.

This form of staph, as its name implies, is unaffected by common antibiotics and other treatment options aren’t always effective either.  This strain is thought to be a mutation of a more common staph strain that emerged around 1985 and was most likely to be found in hospitals and nursing homes.  Its resistance to treatment has earned it the nickname, SuperBug.

No longer confined to institutional settings, MRSA is reaching epidemic proportions in some areas and schools are a common site for infection these days.  Some recent MRSA-related findings include:

  • In 1999, 127,000 hospitalized Americans developed MRSA infections.
  • By 2005, that count had more than doubled, to 280,000 infections.
  • The number of Americans being hospitalized with MRSA infections rose by 62% between 1999 and 2005.
  • Wounds and openings in the skin, such as surgical incisions and where IV needles are attached, are the point of entry for the MRSA bacteria.
  • Many deaths from MRSA infection are caused by blood poisoning and pneumonia.
  • Approximately 90,000 Americans each year die from MRSA infections contracted during hospital confinement.
  • MRSA infection is the #6 leading cause of death in the US.
  • When hospitalized for another reason, a MRSA infection can add as much as $35,000 to a patient’s medical bill.
  • A MRSA infection often doubles the cost of confinement for other reasons.
  • MRSA is sometimes controlled by the very powerful antibiotic, vancomycin, but the bacterium is becoming resistant to it, too.


Some states have passed recent bills that make it mandatory to report MRSA infections to public health authorities and a growing number of health experts say MRSA research and education programs should become public health priorities.

Neuroblastoma

One of the most common forms of cancer affecting children, neuroblastoma is a tumor-causing solid cancer, as opposed to those affecting the blood or lymphatic system.  Although only about 650 new cases are reported in the United States each year, about 50% of them are in children younger than two.

Neuroblastoma affects the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the production of adrenaline (epinephrine) and the stress-related flight-or-fight response.  Once it’s spread (metastasized), the adrenal glands, which produce adrenaline, are most often affected.

If not discovered in time, neuroblastoma can spread throughout the body, where solid tumors (lumps or masses) develop in the face and head, neck, chest, abdomen, and pelvic areas.

The specific cause of neuroblastoma is unknown but the generally accepted explanation is that cellular mutations in normally developing adrenal glands trigger the cancer.

The first symptoms of neuroblastoma – fatigue, fever, and loss of appetite – are so vague and common that it often goes undetected until it’s spread to other body parts.  Symptoms associated with metastasis depend upon the organ(s) affected.

If diagnosed while still localized (before spreading), neuroblastoma is thought to be generally curable.  A test for urine catecholamine level can detect the disease before clinical symptoms appear and some countries routinely test children for it at various stages of infancy, depending on the individual country’s medical policy.

Osteoarthritis

The wasting away of a joint’s bone and cartilage leads to a very painful and debilitating disease known as osteoarthritis, which affects more than 21 million Americans.  As more bone and cartilage tissue wears away, the disease progresses.

Many people turn to nutritional supplements, especially those containing glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, to slow the progression of disease or to minimize the pain but a recent study, the Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT), failed to find any evidence that these supplements slow the loss of tissue.

The GAIT study involved 357 patients with 581 arthritic knees.  Divided into five groups, one group took daily doses of glucosamine; one took chondroitin; a third got a combination of the two; the fourth got Celebrex, a popular drug often prescribed for osteoporosis; and a the fifth group took placebo, or dummy, pills.

After 18 months of assigned treatment, there was no significant change noted in any study group.  Using x-ray technology to measure cartilage loss, the level of osteoarthritis in the study participants’ knee joints had not subsided to any notable degree.

Prostate Cancer

Many men think of prostate issues as an undesirable but natural part of the aging process, even when problems with the prostate lead to cancer.  A new study, conducted by the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, suggests the possibility of an early screening test that reveals which men are more at risk of developing prostate cancer than others.

Older men are routinely screened for PSA levels in their bloodstreams but PSA tests are rarely given to men younger than 50 who show no signs of prostate impairment.  The Sloan-Kettering study followed hundreds of younger men who had been PSA tested between 1974 and 1986 to see if anyone developed prostate cancer in the following years.  After an average of 17 years, the men with the top 20% highest PSA readings had developed prostate cancer and 65% of them were caught at stages early enough for effective treatment.

Knowing one’s risk of prostate cancer might lead to lifestyle changes – diet, exercise, minimal alcohol consumption, and others – that could prevent cancer development or delay its onset.  In 2006, 27,000 American men died from prostate cancer.  No final statistics are yet available but, for 2008, an estimated 230,000 new prostate cancer diagnoses are expected.

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