Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention

Definition

Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a potentially serious infection that resists this antibiotic used to treat infections. It may be resistant to many antibiotics, especially if the infection was contracted in a healthcare setting. MRSA can affect the skin, blood, bones, or lungs. A person can either be infected or colonized with MRSA.

There are two types of MRSA infections:

  • Community-acquired—getting the infection outside of a healthcare setting (hospital or clinic)
  • Nosocomial—getting the infection while inside a healthcare setting

MRSA can spread several ways:

  • Contaminated surfaces
  • Person-to-person
  • From one area of the body to another

Causes

MRSA is caused by bacteria that adapt to repeated exposure to antibiotics, building up a resistance to them.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of developing MRSA include:

  • Community-acquired:
    • Using antibiotics, especially if not needed
    • Impaired immunity
    • Using IV drugs
    • Having a serious illness
    • Sharing crowded spaces such as dormitories or locker rooms
    • Young age, especially children in day care centers
    • Being an athlete, especially in sports using direct contact such as wrestling and football
    • Being a prisoner
    • Being a member of the military
    • Exposure to animals such as being a pet owner, veterinarian, or pig farmer
    • Having a chronic skin disorder
    • Having a wound
    • Being infected with MRSA in the past
  • Nosocomial:
    • Exposure to hospital or clinical settings, especially for long periods of time
    • Living in a long-term care center
    • Using antibiotics
    • Having a wound
    • Impaired immunity
    • Advanced age
    • Presence of invasive indwelling medical devices
    • Sex: male

Symptoms

MRSA may not cause any symptoms in people who are colonized, but not infected, with the bacteria. In those that have symptoms, MRSA may cause:

  • A rash that may have discharge
  • An area of the skin that is swollen and red
  • Blisters and boils on the skin
  • A fever — may be present with severe infections

Infected Hair Follicle—Folliculitis

Inflammed hair follicle
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Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Skin biopsy
  • Wound cultures.
  • Any bacteria grown will be tested against many antibiotics to see which one might work.

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:

Antibiotics may given to kill the bacteria based on the location and severity of the infection, and any underlying illness.

Only a few antibiotics are available that can treat MRSA. One that will treat MRSA may be chosen based on what usually works and your culture results.

Your doctor may open the abscess and allow the fluid to drain. Do not attempt to do this on your own.

In many cases this will be the only treatment needed.

Do the following to treat the infection and to keep it from spreading:

  1. Wash your skin with an antibacterial cleanser.
  2. Cover your skin with a sterile dressing.

Decolonization is a process to help rid your body of the bacteria so you do not reinfect yourself. This process may involve using nasal ointments, washing with special soap, and taking medications, including antibiotics. Decolonization is only recommended in certain cases.

Prevention

To help reduce your chances of MRSA:

  • Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Keep cuts and wounds clean and covered until healed.
  • Avoid contact with other people’s wounds and materials contaminated by wounds.
  • If you are hospitalized, visitors and healthcare workers may be required to wear special clothing and gloves. This will help prevent spreading the infection to others.
  • Clean surfaces to eliminate bacteria.
  • If advised by your doctor, use nasal ointments, wash with special soap, and take medications to prevent the bacteria from infecting you again.