MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is an infection-causing bacteria. It’s a Multi-Drug Resistant Organism (MDRO), resistant to many of the antibiotics commonly used to treat other staph infections, making MRSA tough to treat. Many MRSA infections are not serious, although they could become life-threatening if the infection is allowed to spread to other parts of the body.

Knowing the signs and symptoms of MRSA can help to prevent and treat the infection before it becomes more severe. Here’s what you need to know:

How common is MRSA?
Staph bacteria is relatively common; it lives on the skin or in the nose of roughly one-third of the population. Most healthy people carry staph bacteria without being infected by it. It is usually when staph bacteria enters the body through either a cut or wound that complications arise.

How is MRSA spread & who’s at risk?
MRSA is most frequently spread by contact — either by direct contact with an infected wound or by touching objects that carry the bacteria. There are two main classifications of MRSA: Community-Associated (CA-MRSA) and Healthcare-Associated (HA-MRSA). The former typically affects the general population, especially those who have skin-to-skin contact, spend time in crowded conditions, or practice poor hygiene. The sharing of towels, personal hygiene items (razors), clothes, and athletic equipment can promote MRSA infection. Populations such as athletes (especially those participating in contact sports), children in daycare and school, military members, and inmates are often at higher risk.

HA-MRSA is more common among those with weakened immune systems and infection can manifest through surgical wounds. It is typically spread in healthcare settings, like hospitals, nursing homes, and rehab centers to name a few.

What are the symptoms?
MRSA typically manifests as a skin irritation that may resemble a spider bite or boil. The infected area may be warm to the touch, red, swollen, sore, or even pus-filled.

What do I do if I think I have MRSA?
Do not pick at the infected area; cover the area with a clean bandage and wash your hands until you can be seen by a doctor. Encourage family members and others in close contact with the cut to also wash their hands often.

Keep an eye on skin irritations; if you notice any of the symptoms listed above or the cut appears to be infected, contact your doctor, especially if symptoms are accompanied by a fever. Abscesses caused by MRSA may require surgical draining and culture to aid in the treatment and diagnosis of the organism. Receiving care early can help to prevent the spread and/or severity of the infection.

If MRSA is resistant to antibiotics, how is it treated?
MRSA has earned the nickname “superbug” due to being so tough to treat, however it is not resistant to all types of antibiotics. Although MRSA is constantly evolving and building up immunities to drugs like amoxicillin and penicillin that were once used to treat it, researchers are continually working to develop new antibiotics in an effort to fight the infection. For this reason it is important that healthcare providers diagnose MRSA early and accurately, prescribe appropriate antibiotics if needed, and direct patients to complete the full course of antibiotics as prescribed.

At the same time, healthcare providers need to be cautious about the unnecessary use of antibiotics which can contribute to the problem of antibiotic resistance.

Can MRSA infections be prevented?
Yes! The risk of MRSA infection can be reduced by following simple steps:

  • Practice good hygiene. Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer often and bathe regularly, especially after athletic games or practices, or going to the gym.

  • Care for wounds properly and as often as a doctor directs you to. Clean cuts and scrapes and keep covered with a bandage until fully healed, as pus from MRSA-infected wounds could also carry the infection.

  • Avoid sharing personal items like towels, sheets, razors, athletic clothing and equipment.

  • Do not play contact sports until your infection has healed.

  • Be careful when you are around people with weak immune systems.

  • Clean surfaces daily.

  • Do not share unwashed dishes or silverware with anyone. Us a dishwasher when possible.

  • Change your clothes daily and hold dirty laundry away from your body and your clothes.

  • Dogs and cats can have an MRSA infection and/or be carriers of MRSA. Do not touch your pet’s sores without wearing disposable gloves. Pets can be treated for MRSA infection.

  • If you are concerned about preventing infections after an upcoming surgery, we invite you to voice those concerns during your next visit. Additionally our Welcome Center can help you prepare for every aspect of your surgery—including how to prevent infections like MRSA.

If you think you or a loved one may have a MRSA infection, contact your doctor to seek help.