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Infectious Diseases

Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA)

Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) has become a headline concern due to its emergence as a common infection in a new age of antibiotic resistance. Infection control measures are especially important in crowded school and childcare settings because MRSA is spread by skin-to-skin contact which occurs more easily in such conditions. The following questions introduce information regarding transmission, treatment, and prevention of these now common bacteria.

What is Staphylococcus aureus (staph)?
How common are staph and MRSA infections?
What is Community-Associated MRSA?
What does a staph or MRSA infection look like?
Are certain people at increased risk for staph or MRSA infections?
How can I prevent MRSA skin infections?
What should I do if I think I have a MRSA infection?
Are MRSA infections treatable?
If I have a MRSA skin infection, what can I do to prevent others from getting infected?
Is it possible that my MRSA skin infection will come back after it is cured?


What is Staphylococcus aureus (staph)?

Staphylococcus aureus, often referred to simply as "staph," are bacteria commonly carried on the skin or in the nose of approximately 25% to 30% of otherwise healthy people.

Sometimes, staph can cause an infection. Staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infections in the United States. Most of these skin infections are minor (such as pimples and boils) and can be treated without antibiotics (also known as antimicrobials or antibacterials). However, staph bacteria also can cause serious infections (such as surgical wound infections, bloodstream infections, and pneumonia).

How common are staph and MRSA infections?

Staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infection in the United States. They are a common cause of pneumonia, surgical wound infections, and bloodstream infections. The majority of MRSA infections occur among patients in hospitals or other healthcare settings; however, it is becoming more common in the community setting. Data from a prospective study in 2003 suggests that 12% of clinical MRSA infections are community-associated, but this varies by geographic region and population.

What is Community-Associated MRSA?

Community-Associated Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (CA-MRSA) are staph bacteria that are resistant to some antibiotic treatments, specifically to the antibiotic called methicillin. Until recently it was only found in hospital settings. However, now it can be found commonly outside of hospitals; thus it is called community-associated. These unique clones of CA-MRSA are increasingly responsible for community-associated infections in healthy children and adults. The most frequent manifestation of these community-associated MRSA infections is skin and soft tissue infection, but invasive disease and pneumonia can also occur.

What does a staph or MRSA infection look like?

MRSA can cause skin infections that may look like a pimple or boil and can be red, swollen, painful, or have pus or other drainage. More serious infections may cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections, or surgical wound infections.

Are certain people at increased risk for staph or MRSA infections?

MRSA is spread by skin-to-skin contact. CDC investigations have noted more clusters of MRSA skin infections among athletes, military recruits, children, men who have sex with men, and prisoners. Factors that have been associated with the spread of MRSA skin infections include: close skin-to-skin contact, openings in the skin such as cuts or abrasions, contaminated items and surfaces, crowded living conditions, and poor hygiene.

How can I prevent MRSA skin infections?

Practice good hygiene:
1. Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
2. Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed.
3. Avoid contact with other people's wounds or bandages.
4. Avoid sharing personal items such as towels or razors.

What should I do if I think I have a MRSA infection?

See your healthcare provider.

Are MRSA infections treatable?

Yes. Most MRSA infections are treatable with antibiotics (although choice of antibiotics would not include methicillin due to resistance). If you are given an antibiotic, take all of the doses, even if the infection is getting better, unless your doctor tells you to stop taking it. Do not share antibiotics with other people or save unfinished antibiotics to use at another time.

However, many MRSA skin infections may be treated by draining the abscess or boil and may not require antibiotics. Drainage of skin boils or abscesses should only be done by a healthcare provider.

If after visiting your healthcare provider the infection is not getting better within a few days, contact them again. If other people you know or live with get the same infection, tell them to go to their healthcare provider.

If I have a MRSA skin infection, what can I do to prevent others from getting infected?

You can prevent spreading staph or MRSA skin infections to others by following these steps:

1. Cover your wound. Keep wounds that are draining or have pus covered with clean, dry bandages. Follow your healthcare provider's instructions on proper care of the wound. Pus from infected wounds can contain MRSA, so keeping the infection covered will help prevent the spread to others. Bandages or tape can be discarded with the regular trash.

2. Clean your hands. You, your family, and others in close contact should wash their hands frequently with soap and warm water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after changing the bandage or touching the infected wound.

3. Do not share personal items. Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, washcloths, razors, clothing, or uniforms that may have had contact with the infected wound or bandage. Wash sheets, towels, and clothes that become soiled with water and laundry detergent. Drying clothes in a hot dryer, rather than air-drying, also helps kill bacteria in clothes.

4. Talk to your doctor. Tell any healthcare providers who treat you that you have or had a MRSA skin infection.

Is it possible that my MRSA skin infection will come back after it is cured?

Yes. It is possible to have a staph or MRSA skin infection come back (recur) after it is cured. To prevent this from happening, follow your healthcare provider's directions while you have the infection and follow the above prevention steps after the infection is gone.

Source for CA-MRSA:www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dhqp/ar_mrsa_ca_public.html)

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This article is a NetWellness exclusive.

Last Reviewed: Apr 21, 2010

Jennifer Shine Dyer, MD, MPH Jennifer Shine Dyer, MD, MPH
Former Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University