What is MRSA?
Staphylococcus (STAFF-ih-loh-KOCK-us) aureus (ARE-ee-us) is a type of bacteria, or germ. These bacteria are often called “staph”(pronounced STAFF). Staph bacteria can live in the nose and on the skin. Many people have these bacteria.
In most cases, staph bacteria cause no infection. Sometimes, though, staph can cause an infection. The infection usually shows up as pimples, boils, and other problems with the skin. These infections often contain pus. They may feel itchy and warm. Occasionally, staph cause more serious infections. Methicillin (meth-ih-SILL-in) is an antibiotic often used to treat staph infections. When most antibiotics cannot kill the staph germs, we say they are “methicillin resistant.” Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus bacteria are called “MRSA” for short.
Is MRSA different from other staph?
Yes. MRSA is different from other staph because it cannot be treated with some antibiotics. When antibiotics are needed to treat a MRSA infection, the right antibiotic must be used. If the right antibiotic is not used, the treatment may not work. MRSA is just like other staph in almost every other way.
How are MRSA and other staph spread?
MRSA and other staph are spread by direct skin-to-skin contact, such as shaking hands, wrestling and other contact sports, or other direct contact with the skin of another person.
These germs are also spread by contact with items that have been touched by people with staph. For instance, these germs may be spread by towels shared after bathing and drying off. It may be spread by shared athletic equipment in the gym or on the field. The infection starts when MRSA or other staph gets into a cut, scrape, or other break in the skin.
What are the signs of an infection caused by staph?
Pimples, rashes, or pus-filled boils, especially when warm, painful, red, or swollen, can mean a staph or MRSA skin infection.
Occasionally, staph can cause more serious problems. These problems include surgical wound infections, infections in the blood, and pneumonia. The signs of a more serious problem include:
- High fever
- Swelling, heat, and pain around a wound
What should I do if I think I have a skin infection?
Keep the area clean and dry. See your doctor, especially if the infection is large, painful, warm to the touch, or does not heal by itself.
How will my doctor know if I have a MRSA infection?
Lab tests are the only way to tell the difference between MRSA and other staph infections. These tests will help your doctor decide which antibiotic should be used for treatment, if antibiotic treatment is necessary.
Your doctor will usually take a sample on a swab (like a Q-tip) from the infected area. It will be sent to a lab to see if the infection is caused by MRSA. Other body fluids can also be tested.
What should I do about work or school if I have a MRSA infection?
Ask your doctor. Most people with a staph infection can attend school or work regularly as long as the wound is covered and they are receiving proper treatment. Those working in a health care setting may have additional restrictions. They should contact their Employee Health Department. Check with your school to see if there are restrictions for participation in sports activities.
What should I do if I have been told I have a MRSA infection?
- Keep the infected area covered with clean, dry bandages.
- Wash or sanitize your hands frequently as described below, especially after changing your bandages or touching the infected skin. Place the dressing in a plastic bag, tie it closed, and throw it away promptly.
- Tell any health care providers who treat you that you have a history of MRSA.
- Follow the practices outlined below.
How can I prevent a MRSA or staph infection?
- Wash or sanitize your hands often to help protect yourself from staph and other infections. It is especially important after direct contact with another person’s skin.
- Use a waterless cleaning gel (hand sanitizer) that is a minimum of 60 percent alcohol. Apply the recommended amount. Rub your hands together. Cover all surfaces of your hands and fingers until they are dry. Keep a small bottle in your glove compartment, purse, pocket, or back-pack.
- Using soap and water, rub both sides of your hands vigorously. Remember to clean between your fingers. Count out at least 15 seconds while rubbing your hands before rinsing. (Sing the Happy Birthday song in your head to measure the time. Check yourself one time to be sure you are not singing too fast.) In a public restroom, turn off the faucet with a paper towel, not with your clean hands. If possible, avoid touching the handle of the towel dispenser. Pat your hands dry or use the air blower in the restroom.
- Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until they have healed.
- Avoid contact with other people’s wounds or bandages.
- Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, washcloths, deodorants, bars of soap, toothbrushes, and razors. Sharing these items may transfer staph from one person to another.
- Keep your skin healthy. Avoid getting dry, cracked skin, especially during the winter. Healthy skin helps to keep the staph on the surface of your skin from causing an infection beneath your skin.
- Contact your doctor if you have a skin infection that does not improve.
For more information
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Reviewed March 2011