Many people call them "super bugs" - bacteria strains that no longer respond to common antibiotics. One strain, MRSA, is a type of staph bacteria. MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.
Staph bacteria normally live on the skin and in the nose. They are usually harmless. When normal staph bacteria infect the skin, causing such things as pimples or boils, the infection often heals on its own or can be cured with common antibiotics.
But MRSA is no ordinary staph. Most antibiotics cannot kill this strain of staph bacteria, so it is more likely to spread to the blood and other organs. This is especially true in older people and in people with weakened immune systems.
MRSA has been a problem in hospitals for many years, where it is called hospital-acquired MRSA. MRSA can be easily spread from direct contact with an infected person. But it can also spread through contact with something an infected person has used such as a towel, razor, or sports equipment. As a result, it is now a much wider problem, spreading among even healthy adults and children. People often pick up these community strains (called community-acquired MRSA) in locker rooms, prisons, dorms, and daycare centers.
MRSA is resistant to many of the more common antibiotics. Now, stronger antibiotics are needed to fight off the infection. More serious or widespread MRSA infection requires aggressive treatment. The best way to fight MRSA is through prevention.
What are the symptoms of MRSA?
Staph bacteria can make their way into a cut or scrape. Then red bumps, pimples, or sores appear. Sometimes it is a single, painful red bump, or boil, that may or may not drain pus. At first it may look like a spider bite. Unlike most other staph infections, MRSA infections can keep getting worse. The rash or boil gets bigger, covering a larger area. Other symptoms may include:
- Red, painful area of skin that oozes clear liquid
- Red, painful, hot rash
- Fever or chills
Without treatment, the infection may spread to a large area. It can spread to underlying bone and muscles and to the blood. This can be life-threatening.
How is MRSA treated?
If you think you have a MRSA infection, do not try to treat it yourself. Cover the affected area, wash your hands, and call your doctor. Your doctor will likely need to drain the wound and send a culture swab to the lab to see if it is MRSA. This may be the only treatment needed for a minor infection in an otherwise healthy adult and child.
Antibiotics are needed if the infection is more severe, widespread, getting worse quickly, or in an area that is difficult to drain. A doctor can prescribe antibiotics that are effective against MRSA.
A person in the hospital who is infected with MRSA may be isolated to prevent spreading the bacteria to others.
How can I prevent MRSA infections?
To avoid staph infections:
- Wash your hands often, especially after using the toilet or changing a diaper. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Clean any minor skin injury with soap and water, and cover it with a bandage until it is healed.
- Do not share personal items such as towels, bedding, razors, equipment, or clothing.
- Shower right after working out or playing a game. Dry with a clean towel.
- Wash and dry gym clothes, towels, or uniforms after every use.
To avoid creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria:
- Take the full course of antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor.
- Do not use others' antibiotics or share yours.
- Buy antibiotics only when you need them for bacterial infections. Antibiotics don't work for viral infections like the flu or colds.