What is MRSA?
Some germs that commonly live on the skin and in the nose are called staphylococcus or “staph” bacteria. Approximately 25-30% of the population has these bacteria in their nose. Usually, staph bacteria don’t cause any harm. However, sometimes they get inside the body through a break in the skin and 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. However, staph bacteria also can cause serious infections that require hospitalization. When common antibiotics don’t kill the staph bacteria, it means the bacteria have become resistant to those antibiotics. This type of staph is called MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus). Of the 25-30% of people who have staph bacteria in the skin or nose, only 1% carry MRSA.
- What is community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA)?
Although most staph and MRSA infections occur in healthcare facilities, there are an increasing number of community associated infections. MRSA infections that are acquired by persons who have not been recently (within the past year) hospitalized or have had a medical procedure (such as dialysis, surgery, catheters) are known as community-associated (CA) MRSA infections.
- What does a staph or MRSA infection look like?
Most often, MRSA causes infections on the skin. Symptoms of a staph infection include redness, warmth, swelling, pus, tenderness of the skin, pimples, boils, or blisters. For more information on what the infection looks like, visit the following page: MRSA Infection
- How is MRSA spread?
MRSA is most often spread from person to person by direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected person. Although less likely, MRSA can also be spread by touching contaminated surfaces. In up to 1/3 of cases, people become infected from the bacteria on their own skin entering their body.
Some ways that you could get MRSA are by touching the infected skin of someone who has MRSA; using personal items of someone who has MRSA, such as towels, wash cloths, clothes or athletic equipment; touching objects, such as public phones or doorknobs, that have MRSA bacteria on the surface; and being in crowded places where germs are easily spread, such as hospitals, nursing homes, day cares, jails, or college dorms.
- Who is at increased risk for community-associated staph or MRSA infections?
Anyone can get MRSA. The “5 Cs” associated with the spread of community-associated MRSA skin infections include: skin-to-skin contact; compromised skin, such as cuts or abrasions; contaminated items and surfaces; crowded living conditions; and lack of cleanliness.
Outbreaks of community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) have occurred among prison inmates, participants in contact sports (i.e. football, wrestling), military recruits, and men who have sex with men. You may increase your chances of getting MRSA if you take antibiotics a lot, take antibiotics without a prescription and don’t follow directions when taking antibiotics, such as stopping early or missing doses. You are at greater risk of getting MRSA if you are recovering from surgery or burns, have tubes in your body for medical treatment, or if you share needles.
- How can I prevent staph or MRSA skin infections?
Practice good hygiene. Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and warm water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed. Avoid contact with other people’s wounds or bandages. Avoid sharing personal items such as towels or razors. Clean shared items (i.e. towels, athletic equipment) before you use them.
- What should I do if I think I have a staph or MRSA skin infection?
Keep the area clean and dry. See your doctor as soon as possible, especially if the infection is large, painful, warm to the touch, or does not heal by itself. Early treatment can help prevent the infection from getting worse. The symptoms of MRSA infection are similar to those of other skin infections. MRSA can only be diagnosed by culture and laboratory testing. If you are prescribed antibiotics, be sure to take all of your pills, even if you feel better. Incomplete treatment of staph infections can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, like MRSA.
- How are staph and MRSA infections treated?
Staph skin infections may heal by themselves if kept clean and dry. If after visiting your healthcare provider the infection is not getting better after 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 you have an active MRSA infection, your physician may choose one ore more of the following treatments:
Drain the infection. Many staph 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.
Prescribe antibiotics. Most staph and MRSA infections are treatable with antibiotics. 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.
Reduce the amount of bacteria on the skin. This may prevent the spread of MRSA if you have an active infection or if you are a carrier. Your physician may, for a short period of time, recommend that you shower daily with antibacterial soap, prescribe antibiotic pills, or prescribe a nasal antibiotic ointment.
- If I have a staph, or MRSA skin infection, what can I do to prevent others from getting infected?
You can avoid spreading staph or MRSA skin infections to others by following the steps on this page: MRSA Spread Prevention
- How do I change my bandages?
Wash your hands well with soap and warm water. Put on disposable gloves. Remove the old bandage. Put the old bandage into a plastic bag. Take off the gloves and put them in the plastic bag, too.
Wash and dry your hands. Put on a new, clean pair of gloves. Apply the new bandage. If you have a leaking sore, put extra dressings over it to keep the drainage from leaking through.
Take off the second pair of gloves and put them in the plastic bag. Seal or tie up the bag and throw it away in your regular trash. Wash and dry your hands.
- What does it mean to be “colonized?"
There are 2 ways you can have MRSA. You can have an active infection. An active infection means you have symptoms. The types of symptoms depend on where the bacteria are located. Usually an active infection is a skin infection, such as a boil, a sore, or an infected cut.
You can be a carrier. If you are a carrier you do not have symptoms that you can see, but you still have MRSA bacteria living on your skin and in your nose. If you are a carrier, your doctor may say that you are colonized. These words — “carrier” and “colonized” — mean the same thing. You may not get sick or have any more skin infections, but you can spread MRSA to others.
Staph and MRSA infections are contagious as long as you have draining lesions or as long as you are a carrier.
- Is MRSA the “flesh-eating” bacteria?
Many bacteria can cause severe illness, including a very severe skin and tissue infection called “necrotizing fasciitis.” This kind of life-threatening infection is rare and can be caused by staph, including MRSA, and other kinds of bacteria.