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New antibiotics are often thought to be breakthroughs in the treatment of resistant diseases. But older drugs are still effective and shouldn't be passed over.

A new study shows that older antibiotics are equally or more effective in fighting MRSA and shouldn't be overlooked.

MRSA is the most well-known and widespread of the 'superbugs,' infections usually found in hospital settings and prone to causing post-surgical infections that don't respond to the usual drugs for that infection.

It takes its name from its color and its behavior. A member of the Staphylococcus family, MRSA is Staphylococcus Aureus - golden yellow - which is resistant to the usual drug for treating staph infections, Methicillin. 

All of this would be of much less importance if Staphylococcus wasn't so versatile. Many people carry MRSA where they would have carried MSSA (Methicillin Sensitive Staphylococcus Aureus) before the advent of resistance: in their nasal passages and throats. It's not uncommon to carry MRSA without symptoms for periods of time that range from a few days to several years. 

But MRSA can colonize open wounds of any kind, and can lead to a range of outcomes including truly terrifying results like necrotizing fasciitis and necrotizing pneumonia. In both cases, 'necrotizing' means 'making dead.' These are the 'flesh eating superbugs' beloved of tabloid scaremongers. 

At present, no-one knows how some people can catch MRSA and recover, while others die within a few days of a similar initial infection by the same organism.

When MRSA initially presents you're looking at rough, red skin with raised bumps like spider bites or nettle stings, pimples or boils. Within 72 hours these have usually gotten a lot worse and often become open boils, deep and pus-filled, accompanied by fever and a rash.

The vast majority of MRSA that's picked up outside hospitals - about 75% - is localized, staying put on the surface and soft tissue nearby.

It's not something you'd exactly want, but neither is it all that hard to treat. The big problem with MRSA is something else.

In some cases of community-acquired MRSA (sometimes written CA-MRSA, this just means it was picked up outside a hospital or institution), the infection spreads. In these rare cases the infection is actually more serious than a hospital acquired MRSA infection, and can cause multiorgan dysfunction, sepsis and pneumonia. Why these infections are even more virulent than hospital-acquired ones is still something that we haven't really figured out, but it's thought to be due to toxins produced by some strains of the pathogen.

In hospitals, nursing homes and even military institutions and prisons, the story is a little different. MRSA is more or less the same as any other staph infection apart from the fact that it's resistant to the main drug that's used to treat staph infections. That means it likes crowded places with lots of skin-on-skin contact, like prisons and military facilities, and it loves a crowded place with lots of open wounds, intrusive surgical appliances and compromised immune systems. That means hospitals and nursing homes are also prime places to find MRSA, where it's referred to as HA-MRSA (Hospital-Acquired MRSA). 

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