It’s normal for us to fear what we don’t understand, and the recent public anxiety over the "Super Bug" is a good example. In the last few weeks, as news reports emerged about a type of staph infection that has grown resistant to some antibiotics (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA), the Bryan County Health Department’s telephones lit up with calls from anxious school personnel and panicked parents. MRSA can be deadly, and we should all take precautions, but the amount of fear generated about this illness has at times been disproportionate to the risk.
If we had a vaccine to prevent MRSA infection, which we don’t, I would expect long lines of people filling our health department clinics and local doctors’ offices, begging for vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control predicts 19,000 people will die of MRSA each year in the U.S.
But compare that number to the more grim predictions for seasonal flu. Each year, about 36,000 people die from the flu, nearly twice as many as MRSA. And we have a vaccine, yet we often struggle to get our residents immunized. We’ve grown familiar with the flu, and unfortunately, many have also grown complacent.
The good news is that some of our recommendations for combating the two illnesses are similar. Good public health practices are key: wash your hands and don’t share personal items. While people are focused on good hygiene to combat MRSA, perhaps flu prevention will also be an unintended, but positive result.
But vaccination is still the best way to prevent seasonal flu infection. We have vaccine. Flu isn’t new, but that doesn’t mean it’s not serious. Do the right thing - get immunized to protect yourself and your family.
Doug Skelton, M.D. and Diane Weems, M.D.
Skelton is health director and Weems is the chief medical officer of the Coastal Health District.