From Plagues to Diseases: Should You Worry About Local Outbreaks?

“MRSA spreads among Heidelberg University athletes”

“2 more dead from legionnaires disease at Illinois vets home”

“Bubonic Plague reported in Michigan”

Scary headlines, right?

At first glance, yes. But, dig a little deeper, urges Dr. David Grossman, Toledo-Lucas County health commissioner, and you’ll find there’s no reason to panic.

Dr. Grossman’s advice: Stay informed.

“Yes, people should be aware of public health threats in the country — and then put them in perspective,” Dr. Grossman says. This could allay your fears about MRSA, Legionnaires Disease and Bubonic Plague.

MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection) is caused by a strain of staph bacteria that is often found in hospitals, other healthcare settings, including nursing homes, and in the community. “MRSA is not carried through the air,” Dr. Grossman says. In fact, MRSA infections are often associated with invasive procedures or devices, such as surgeries, artificial joints and intravenous tubing.

MRSA can also be acquired in the community and very often transmitted among athletes who share towels or are involved in contact sports.

“People in the at-risk populations should practice good hygiene, particularly athletes involved in contact sports,” Dr. Grossman says. He also says it’s important to make sure all open wounds are covered.

Legionnaires’ disease is a form of pneumonia caused by inhaling the legionella bacterium, which Dr. Grossman confirms is not transmitted by casual, person-to-person contact.

“The outbreaks are most often attributed to contaminated environments, such as cooling towers or air conditioning units. Those most susceptible include older adults, smokers and people with weakened immune systems.” Although prompt treatment with antibiotics usually cures Legionnaires disease, some people continue to experience problems after treatment.

It is important to be aware, but definitely not to panic over MRSA and Legionnaires’. What about when it comes to the Bubonic Plague? This disease is extremely rare and occurs mostly in wild and rural areas. Long gone are the days of the big outbreaks in major cities. In fact, according to the CDC, the last major outbreak in the United States was in Los Angeles in 1924-25.

Bubonic Plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and is transmitted to humans through rodent flea bites or by handling infected animals such as mice, squirrels, prairie dogs, cats and dogs. However, the CDC reports only about 10-15 cases in the United States per year. Also, the disease is highly treatable with antibiotics, if caught early.

Dr. Grossman does not recommend that people ignore the scary headlines. The best advice is to simply practice good hygiene habits such as keeping your hands washed and covering your mouth when coughing. He also highly recommends getting a flu shot.

“These little things people can do are actually very important for keeping ourselves and the general public healthy,” Dr. Grossman says.