THURSDAY, Jan. 18, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- A toxin that's present in the bacteria responsible for the current outbreak of staph infections across the United States can cause necrotizing pneumonia, an aggressive condition that often kills patients within 72 hours, researchers say.
"The virulence of CA-MRSA (community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) strains that produce the PVL (Panton Valentine leukocidin) toxin presents a nightmare scenario," study co-senior author M. Gabriela Bowden, research assistant professor at Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences and Technology at Houston, said in a prepared statement.
"If the community-acquired strain establishes itself in the hospital setting, it will be difficult to contain," Bowden said.
Her team's study is currently available online and is expected to be published in an upcoming print issue of the journal Science.
The S. aureus bacterium, which is found on the skin or in the nose of about 25 percent to 30 percent of people, is the most common cause of staph infections. It can also cause minor skin infections such as boils and pimples, and major illnesses such as pneumonia, meningitis, endocarditis and toxic shock syndrome.
In this study, Bowden and her colleagues analyzed the effects of the PVL toxin in mice.
"Our research shows in vivo that PVL is sufficient to cause pneumonia. PVL-producing S. aureus overexpress other factors that enhance inflammation and bacterial attachment to the lung. These combined effects result in a vicious cycle of tissue destruction and inflammation, explaining the rapid onset and lethal outcome of this type of pneumonia," Bowden said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about CA-MRSA.