Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus: The Deadly Superbug

Author:  Elizabeth C. Lee
Institution:  The George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
Date:  December 2010


Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), often referred to as the "deadly superbug" by the media, is currently a major epidemiological threat on a global scale. The adaptability of S. aureus to antibiotics led to the emergence of MRSA in 1961 in a hospital ward in the United Kingdom. S. aureus developed resistance to β-lactam antibiotics through the acquisition of the mecA gene, which is situated on a mobile genetic element known as staphylococcal cassette chromsome mec (SCCmec). The mecA gene encodes penicillin-binding protein 2a (PBP2a), which has a significantly reduced affinity for β-lactam antibiotics, thereby conferring β-lactam resistance. Although the first MRSA clones were hospital-associated (HA-MRSA), community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) clones are now increasingly found throughout the world, affecting normally healthy individuals. MRSA accounts for greater than 50-80% of S. aureus isolates. The global emergence of MRSA has raised concern among public health officials. In fact, in year 2005, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that the number of MRSA fatalities in the United States surpassed the number of deaths from AIDS and hurricane Katrina combined. Several preventative measures have been suggested, including: covering wounds, maintaining good personal hygiene, and avoiding sharing personal items that could facilitate the transmission of MRSA bacteria. As MRSA continues to affect individuals worldwide, it is essential that further research be conducted on the epidemiology of this deadly superbug. Although progress has been made, our current knowledge of the pathogenesis and the molecular evolution of MRSA and the number of available treatments for MRSA infections are limited. This review describes our current understanding of the key determinants of multidrug resistance, worldwide dissemination, and modes of transmission of MRSA bacteria. Also, this review highlights some of the most recent research findings, which could lead to the development of novel anti-MRSA therapeutics. In addition, some of the challenges that researchers currently face are also discussed.