Deadly Staph Infections Linked to the Opioid Epidemic

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Rising rates of staph infections may be due in part to the huge increase in the number of people who are addicted to opioids and other drugs, says the CDC.

Regarding the opioid link, the CDC notes that 9 percent of serious staph infections in 2016 developed in people who inject drugs, compared to 4 percent in 2011. Drug-addiction treatment services and providing information about safe injection practices, wound care, and early signs of infection could help cut the risk of dangerous staph infections in this population.

Despite infection control efforts in hospitals, staph infections remain a serious threat in health care facilities. According to the CDC’s Vital Signs report, more than 119,000 Americans contracted Staphylococcus aureus bloodstream infections in 2017, and nearly 20,000 died from the infection or from complications. Staphylococcus aureus is commonly found on the skin and usually doesn’t cause problems unless it enters the bloodstream. People who are hospitalized or live in a nursing home or assisted-living facility, undergo surgery, or come into close contact with a person with staph are at increased risk for infection.

Although the dangers of difficult-to-treat methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, are more widely known, methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA) can also be deadly. The rate of MRSA infections in hospitals and other health care settings went down by about 17 percent each year from 2005 to 2012 in the U.S., but these declines have begun to stall. The rate of MSSA infections contracted outside of health care facilities increased by about 4 percent per year from 2012 to 2017.

To avoid staph infections at home and in health care settings, the CDC suggests these precautions:

  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Shower regularly
  • Keep wounds covered
  • Avoid sharing towels, razors, or needles
  • Follow glove and gown protocols in medical facilities
  • Get screened if you’re at high risk for staph infection