What Is MRSA?
Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus
aureus (MRSA) is an infection caused by a type of Staphylococcus, or staph, bacteria that’s
resistant to many different antibiotics. These bacteria naturally live in the
nose and on the skin and generally don’t cause any harm. However, when they
begin to multiply uncontrollably, a MRSA infection can occur. These infections
typically occur when there’s a cut or break in your skin.
MRSA is very contagious and can be spread through direct contact
with an infected person. It can also be contracted by coming into contact with
an object or surface that an infected person has touched. Though a MRSA
infection can be serious, it may be treated effectively with antibiotics
Are the Different Types of MRSA?
MRSA infections are classified as either hospital-acquired
(HA-MRSA) or community-acquired (CA-MRSA).
HA-MRSA is associated with infections that are contracted in
medical facilities such as hospitals or nursing homes. You can get this type of
MRSA infection through direct contact with an infected wound or contaminated
hands. You can also become infected by contaminated patient linens or poorly
sanitized surgical instruments. It can cause severe problems, such as blood
infections and pneumonia.
CA-MRSA is associated with infections that are transmitted
through close personal contact with an infected person or through direct
contact with an infected wound. This type of MRSA infection may also develop as
a result of poor hygiene such as infrequent or improper hand-washing.
Are the Symptoms of MRSA?
MRSA symptoms can vary depending on the type of infection.
Symptoms of CA-MRSA
CA-MRSA usually causes skin infections. Areas that have increased
body hair, such as the armpits or back of the neck, are more likely to be
infected. Areas that have been cut, scratched, or rubbed are also vulnerable to
infection because your biggest barrier to germs, your skin, has been damaged.
The infection usually causes a swollen, painful bump to form on
the skin. The bump may resemble a spider bite or pimple. It often has a yellow
or white center and a central head. This may often be surrounded by an area of
redness and warmth, known as cellulitis. Pus and other fluids may drain from
the affected area. Some people also experience a fever.
Symptoms of HA-MRSA
HA-MRSA is generally more likely to cause serious complications,
such as pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and sepsis. It’s important to see
your doctor right away if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- a rash
- muscle aches
- a cough
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
Is at Risk for Developing MRSA?
Risk factors vary depending on the type of MRSA infection.
You’re at an increased risk for HA-MRSA if you:
- were hospitalized within the past three months
- regularly undergo hemodialysis
- have a weakened immune system due to another
- live in a nursing home
You’re at an increased risk for CA-MRSA if you:
- are a man who has sex with other men
- share exercise equipment, towels, or razors with
- participate in contact sports
- work at a day care facility
- live in crowded or unsanitary conditions
Is MRSA Diagnosed?
Diagnosis begins with a medical history assessment and physical
examination. Samples will also be taken from the site of infection. The types
of samples obtained to help diagnose MRSA include the following:
Wound samples are obtained with a sterile cotton swab and placed
in a container. They’re then taken to a laboratory to be analyzed for the
presence of staph bacteria.
Sputum is the substance that comes up from the respiratory tract
during coughing. People who can cough can provide a sputum sample easily. Those
who are unable to cough or who are on ventilators may need to undergo a respiratory
lavage or bronchoscopy to obtain a sputum sample. Respiratory lavage and
bronchoscopy involve the use of a bronchoscope, which is a thin tube with a
camera attached. Under controlled conditions, the doctor inserts the
bronchoscope through your mouth and into your lungs. The bronchoscope allows
the doctor to see the lungs clearly and to collect a sample of fluid for
In most cases, this sample is obtained from a “midstream clean
catch” urine specimen. To do this, urine is collected in a sterile cup during
urination. The cup is then given to the doctor, who sends it to a lab for
analysis. Sometimes, urine has to be collected directly from the bladder. To do
this, the doctor inserts a sterile tube called a catheter into the bladder.
Urine then drains from the bladder into a sterile container.
A blood culture requires the removal of a small sample of blood. Blood
is then placed on a dish in a laboratory and allowed to grow bacteria that may
be present within it. Results from blood cultures typically take about 48
hours. A positive test result can indicate sepsis, a type of blood infection.
Bacteria can enter the blood from infections located in other parts of your
body, such as the lungs, bones, and urinary tract.
Is MRSA Treated?
HA-MRSA and CA-MRSA infections are typically treated differently.
CA-MRSA infections will usually improve with oral antibiotics alone. If you
have a large enough skin infection, your doctor may decide to perform an
incision and drainage. This procedure is typically performed in an office
setting under local anesthesia and involves using a scalpel to cut open the
area of infection and drain it completely. You may not need antibiotics if this
HA-MRSA infections have the capability of producing severe and
life-threatening infections. These infections usually require antibiotics
through an IV, sometimes for long periods of time depending on the severity of
Can MRSA Be Prevented?
Take the following measures to reduce your risk of getting and spreading
- Wash your hands on a regular basis. This is the
first line of defense against spreading MRSA. Scrub your hands for at least 15
seconds before drying them with a towel. Use another towel to turn off the
faucet. It’s also recommended to carry hand sanitizer that contains 60 percent
alcohol. This can keep your hands clean when you don’t have access to soap and
- Keep your wounds covered at all times. Covering
wounds can prevent pus or other fluids containing staph bacteria from
contaminating surfaces that other people may touch.
- Don’t share personal items. This includes
towels, sheets, razors, and athletic equipment.
- Sanitize your linens. If you have cuts or
bruises, wash bed linens and towels in hot water with extra bleach. You should
also wash your gym and athletic clothes after each use. Dry everything in the
dryer at high heat.
People with HA-MRSA are typically placed in isolation temporarily
until there infection improves. Isolation prevents the spread of this type of MRSA
infection. Hospital personnel caring for people with MRSA have to follow strict
hand-washing procedures. To further reduce their risk for MRSA, hospital staff
and visitors should wear protective garments and gloves to prevent contact with
contaminated surfaces. Linens and contaminated surfaces should always be