What is MRSA?
Staphylococcus aureus (Staph) is a type of bacteria that lives on the skin and in the noses of healthy people. Some Staph bacteria are easily treatable with antibiotics, while others are not. Staph bacteria that are resistant to the antibiotic Methicillin (and many other antibiotics) are called Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA. These resistant bacteria can cause serious disease that may be difficult to treat.
MRSA infections occur most often in hospitals and health-care facilities. Sometimes they can occur in the community. People at higher risk of infection in the community are children in daycare or school settings, military personnel living in barracks, athletes (for example wrestlers) and people recently discharged from a stay in hospital.
What are the symptoms of MRSA?
Staph bacteria can cause a variety of different illnesses, most commonly they cause skin infections. In a health care setting such as a hospital or long-term care home, the bacteria can cause life-threatening blood infections, pneumonia and surgical wound infections. People in hospital who become infected with the bacteria are often already sick and have weakened immune systems and are more vulnerable to severe infection.
The symptoms depend on the type of illness the bacteria are causing. Skin infections can appear as a bump or infected area on the skin that might be red, swollen and painful. The area can be warm to the touch and might be full of pus. A fever may also develop. Severe infections may cause symptoms such as tiredness, aches and pains, fever and a general feeling of being unwell. In cases of pneumonia a cough may develop.
You should see a health care provider if you develop a skin infection that is red, swollen and full of pus.
How is MRSA spread?
Some people carry Staph bacteria on their hands or in their nose and do not become ill. Some of these Staph bacteria may be MRSA, while others are not. They can spread the bacteria to others who may develop an infection.
MRSA is spread by direct skin-to-skin contact or through contact with objects or items that have touched infected body fluids (such as towels or clothing).
MRSA bacteria in hospitals and health care facilities are spread from person to person on the hands of health care workers and though shared equipment.
How is MRSA treated?
Most Staph and MRSA infections can be treated with antibiotics. If you are given an antibiotic make sure you take all of it, even if the infection is getting better. Do not stop unless your health care provider tells you to. Do not share antibiotics with other people or save unfinished antibiotics to use at another time.
You can treat mild symptoms at home.
How is MRSA prevented?
- Cover cuts and scrapes with clean, dry bandages. Do not pick at or pop any sores.
- Use antibiotics appropriately. Frequent and inappropriate use of antibiotics causes bacteria to build resistance to antibiotics.
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Don’t share personal items such as razors, wash cloths and towels.
- Tell your healthcare providers if you have, or have had an MRSA skin infection.
Simple preventative measures can reduce the spread of infection.