The Threat of MRSA in People With Diabetes & Foot Ulcers

foot pain

Diabetes can lead to complications in your feet, such as open sores, ulcers, and infection. This likely is due to decreased circulation and changes in blood vessels. Over time, excess sugar can damage blood vessels and cause neuropathy, a loss of sensation in the feet, which can make them feel numb. Many times, people aren't even aware that they have a wound on their feet. The sores can quickly become seriously infected before they are even discovered.

Typically, diabetic foot infections are polymicrobial (more than one type of bacterium). The most common culprits are staph or strep but most infections have about 4 to 6 other bugs present. In recent years, staph strains have evolved to be more resistant to antibiotics.

MRSA, (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) has become increasingly common, both in hospital strains and in community-acquired cases (CA-MRSA). The ulcers and open sores that can occur in diabetic feet can put you at risk for contracting MRSA in addition to other infections.

What Is MRSA?

MRSA is a type of staph infection that is resistant to many different antibiotics. It can appear as a reddish rash, such as a small boil and, when open, can look more like an abscess. There are two major categories of MRSA. One is called a "nosocomial" infection, meaning that it's an infection that is transmitted mostly in healthcare settings. The other is community-acquired MRSA. This strain of MRSA has become a major concern because the number of people contracting it has increased. People with diabetes are at risk for both kinds of MRSA. Anytime there is a break in the skin, germs can get in and cause an infection. Diabetes increases your chances of getting MRSA because sores and ulcers can happen without you even being aware of it.

Is MRSA Curable?

MRSA can be difficult to treat once you are infected with it. The major problem is that MRSA is resistant to many types of first-line antibiotics such as penicillin or oxacillin. If you have been treated in the past with a lot of antibiotics for other infections, it can be even more difficult to find an antibiotic that will work for you.

There are some antibiotics and topical antibiotic treatments that are successful in treating MRSA, but re-occurrence can still be a problem for many people.

Protecting Yourself From MRSA

Community-acquired MRSA is transmitted by contact. It can live on surfaces and is also spread by skin-to-skin contact.

  • Inspect your feet every day for sores and open areas.
  • Do not go barefoot. Keep your feet covered with dry, clean socks and well-fitting shoes.
  • If you do have an open sore, see your healthcare provider right away. Keep the sore covered with a clean, dry bandage.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) also advises:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Never share towels, razors, or other personal items.
  • If you use equipment that is used by others, such as at a gym, make sure that the surfaces are wiped down with an antibacterial spray before you use it.

With good hygiene practices and good foot care, you can reduce your risk for infections, including MRSA. Keeping your blood sugar under control can also help by lowering your risk of all foot complications including sores, ulcers, and neuropathy.


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