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Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)

Definition

Germs called Staphylococcus aureus are bacteria. They are often just called “staph.” Many healthy people carry staph in their noses or on their skin. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of staph that has changed (become resistant) due to overuse and abuse of antibiotics. Antibiotics are drugs that kill bacteria. This resistant staph can’t be killed by the usual antibiotics, like penicillin and methicillin. Certain other antibiotics will still kill MRSA.

In the past, most infections caused by MRSA were in hospitals or nursing homes. Now, healthy people who have not recently been in the hospital are getting infections caused by MRSA. These are called community-associated MRSA infections.

Symptoms

MRSA may cause a skin infection that looks like a pimple or boil. The infection often looks like a spider bite. It can be red, swollen, and painful. It may drain pus. These skin infections commonly occur at sites of visible skin trauma, such as cuts and abrasions, and areas of the body covered by hair (e.g., back of neck, groin, buttock, armpit, beard area of men). If you think you may have a skin infection, see your health care provider. Sometimes MRSA causes more severe and potentially life-threatening infections, such as bloodstream infections, surgical wound infections, or pneumonia.

Causes

The bacteria enter the body through open cuts and scrapes on the skin. The bacteria usually spread when a person with MRSA on their skin comes into contact with another person’s skin. Hand washing and keeping wounds covered is important in stopping a possible spread of the infection. A less common way to spread MRSA is to share towels and sports equipment.

Risk Factors

MRSA infections are most common in hospitals and nursing homes. Conditions that help MRSA spread are skin touching skin, cuts or scrapes, and crowded living conditions. If a person not in the hospital has a MRSA infection, it is more likely to spread if this person is a member of certain groups. These groups include athletes, military recruits, children, prisoners, and men who have sex with men.

Prevention

  • Keep wounds that are draining covered with clean, dry, bandages.
  • Clean hands regularly with soap and water or alcohol-based hand gel (if hands are not visibly soiled). Always clean hands immediately after touching infected skin or any item that has come in direct contact with a draining wound.
  • Maintain good general hygiene with regular bathing.
  • Do not share items that may become contaminated with wound drainage, such as towels, clothing, bedding, bar soap, razors, and athletic equipment that touches the skin.
  • Wash clothing that has come in contact with wound drainage after each use and dry thoroughly.
  • If you are not able to keep your wound covered with a clean, dry bandage at all times, do not join in activities where you have skin to skin contact with other persons (such as sports or in child care centers) until your wound is healed.
  • Clean equipment and other environmental surfaces with which multiple individuals have bare skin contact with an over the counter detergent/disinfectant that specifies Staphylococcus aureus on the product label and is suitable for the type of surface being cleaned.

Treatment

Your health care provider will decide the best way to treat your infection. Some infections may need to be drained. Only a health care provider should drain sores. Some infections may need antibiotics. Tell your health care provider if you are not getting better in a few days. You may need to go to the hospital to receive antibiotics directly into your veins. Be sure to tell any health care provider you see if you have had an MRSA infection in the past. If anyone you know gets a similar skin infection, have them see their health care provider.

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