Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is a type of staph infection that is resistant to certain antibiotics. It is a serious skin infection that can become life-threatening if left untreated. If you or someone in your family has been diagnosed with MRSA, there are steps you need to take now to avoid spreading it to your family and friends.
There are two distinct types of MRSA:
- HA-MRSA (hospital-acquired MRSA) occurs most frequently among people in hospitals and health-care facilities who are older, more acutely ill or have weakened immune systems.
- CA-MRSA (community-acquired MRSA) has become responsible for most of the skin and soft tissue infections seen in healthy people during the past few years. The incidence of CA-MRSA is increasing, especially among children and young people involved in athletics.
The following information is intended to raise awareness about CA-MRSA but is not intended to provide a comprehensive medical explanation. For additional information, access the resources listed at the end of the document.
What to Know About CA-MRSA
CA-MRSA infections generally start as small, painful red bumps that resemble pimples or boils. These quickly can turn into deep, painful abscesses that require surgical drainage. CA-MRSA produces toxins that cause a great deal of redness, pain and inflammation. It can be readily spread among healthy people and has caused recurring infections in some patients as well as outbreaks in families, households, sports teams and living units.
Main risk factors for CA-MRSA
- Young age. CA-MRSA is much more common in those younger than age 18.
- Participating in contact sports. CA-MRSA affects both amateur and professional sports teams. The bacteria spread easily through cuts and abrasions and skin-to-skin contact.
- Sharing towels or athletic equipment. CA-MRSA has spread among athletes sharing razors, towels, uniforms or equipment.
- Living in crowded or unsanitary conditions.
Keep an eye on minor skin problems — pimples, insect bites, cuts and scrapes — especially in children. If wounds become infected, tell the affected person and their family to see a doctor and have any skin infection cultured before starting antibiotic therapy. The wrong antibiotic can delay healing.
These commonsense precautions can help reduce the risk of contracting or spreading CA-MRSA. Remember that resistance to infection changes, so always take these precautions:
- Wash your hands. In or out of the hospital, careful hand washing remains the best defense against germs. Scrub hands briskly for at least 15 seconds, dry them with a disposable towel, and use another towel to turn off the faucet.
- Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer containing at least 62 percent alcohol for times when you don’t have access to soap and water.
- Keep personal items personal. Avoid sharing towels, sheets, razors, clothing and athletic equipment, as MRSA spreads on contaminated objects as well.
- Keep wounds covered. Keep cuts and abrasions clean and covered with sterile, dry bandages until they heal. The pus from infected sores contains MRSA, and keeping wounds covered will help keep the bacteria from spreading.
- Dispose of contaminated bandages carefully, such as in a plastic bag, so others do not come in contact with them.
- Wear disposable gloves. If you expect to have contact with an infected wound, you should wear disposable gloves and wash your hands before and after removing the gloves.
- Sanitize linens. If you have a cut or sore, wash towels and bed linens in hot water with added bleach and dry in a hot dryer. Wash gym and athletic clothes after each wearing.
- Clean potentially contaminated surfaces with a disinfectant or bleachwater solution (one part bleach to 10 parts water) after caring for a wound.
- Get tested. If you have a skin infection that requires treatment, ask your doctor to get a culture to check for MRSA first. Many doctors prescribe drugs that aren’t effective against antibiotic-resistant staph, which delays treatment.
- Never take anyone else’s medication to treat any suspected infection you may have.
Want to Learn More?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Journal of the American Medical Association
- Mayo Clinic
- The Living with MRSA booklet, developed with help from people who are living with MRSA, offers recommendations to cope with MRSA.