Skin-enemy: Staph bacteria featuring Amy Winehouse

In 2008, the internet went mad for R & B chanteuse Amy Winehouse's appearance with a left cheek as swollen as her beehive hairdo. While some surmised trauma, the official word was that she had developed "impetigo," a type of contagious bacterial infection. The most common cause of impetigo is strep bacteria. Dried, yellow, and flaking, the appearance of the disease is often described as "honey crusted."

While it is certainly possible that Winehouse was fending off a routine case of skin strep, certain aspects are not typical. Usually strep impetigo is seen in children, who are still developing a mature immune system. The affected area may be red and tender but not usually swollen. The appearance of Winehouse's markedly bloated cheek raises the possibility of an infection with Strep's sinister cousin, Staph Aureus. This pesky pest tends to cause more swelling and blistering than strep, and commonly affects adults. Certain strains, known as MRSA (Methicillin resistant Staph Aureus) have developed a resistance to certain antibiotics and can be particularly hard to clear.

The MRSA plague is not limited emotionally labile, tattoo-covered British chanteuses. American professional athletes have also been felled by the boisterous bacterium. NFL football players, pro basketballers and baseball have increasingly caught MRSA and had to take extra time on the bench. Actually, some have spent time in the hospital, getting IV antibiotics.

For patients outside of the spotlight, infection sites can be swabbed and the bacterial culprit identified. Along with the appropriate antibiotic pill, surgical drainage of the swollen area may be necessary. Hospitalization is remains rare, a last resort. We assume that Amy has been more open to antibacterial treatments then she has been about rehab.

Runner-up, Skin-Enemy:
Disfiguring trauma, turning hot looking actors into creepy comic book bad guys:
Heath Ledger's comedy-free Joker
Aaron Eckharts's indecisive "Two-Face"
Domenic West's puzzling "Jigsaw" in "Punisher: War Zone"

Why do good looking actors subject themselves to hours in the prosthetic makeup chair to play morally unravelled meanies? And why does bad skin make characters so malevolent? Why, indeed?

© 1996-2009 Vail Reese M.D.

Dr. Reese's office