About MRSA (Staph infection)

MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is a bacterium that can cause a skin infection. It can be difficult to treat because it resists common antibiotics.

MRSA can be carried on the skin or in the nose without causing any disease, which is called colonization. Approximately 25 to 30 percent of the population is colonized in the nose with staph bacteria at any given time; however, the proportion colonized with MRSA is not known. The exact number of new cases of MRSA infections in Oregon is unknown, but the number of cases of MRSA in Oregon in general is increasing.

How it spreads

Anybody can get MRSA, but MRSA infections are by far more common among persons in hospitals and healthcare facilities. MRSA has been associated with recent antibiotic use, sharing contaminated personal items, having recurrent skin diseases, and living in crowded settings. Outbreaks of MRSA have been reported among participants in contact sports such as wrestling and rugby.

As with other types of staph, MRSA can be spread among people having close contact with colonized or infected people. MRSA is almost always spread by direct physical contact, but may also occur through indirect contact by touching objects (e.g., towels, sheets, wound dressings, clothes, workout areas, or sports equipment) contaminated by a person colonized or infected with MRSA.

Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Symptoms of MRSA include:

  • Red, swollen, tender skin surrounding a cut or in the form of a large pimple (boil) that may include drainage of thick white pus
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever
  • Excessive tiredness

If a child develops these symptoms, a parent should contact a doctor.

MRSA is diagnosed by identifying the bacteria grown in a laboratory culture from a sample, typically taken from a draining lesion or a swab of the back of the nose. Some health care providers will diagnose MRSA based on the appearance of the skin lesion and a known history of or exposure to MRSA.

Colonization of the skin or nose usually is not a reason for antibiotic treatment except in special circumstances. Small, localized skin pimples or boils may improve without use of antibiotics. When antibiotics are required, there are usually only a few from which to choose.

Preventing MRSA

A major reason why people are encouraged to wash their hands thoroughly and frequently is because hand-washing can prevent the spread of many infections, including MRSA.

 “Staph is both preventable and treatable,” according to Dr. Gary Oxman, Health Officer for Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties. “Parents should be especially mindful of how important it is to both set an example and teach our children how important it is to wash their hands and cover cuts.”

See your healthcare provider if you think you have a staph or MRSA infection. In the meantime, keep any wounds covered with a clean dressing and wash your hands frequently to avoid spreading potential infections to others in your household.

If you are diagnosed with MRSA, then be sure to:

  • Cover your wound. Keep wounds that are draining or have pus covered with clean, dry bandages. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions on proper care of the wound.
  • Wash your hands. You, your family, and others in close contact should wash your hands frequently with soap and warm water, especially after changing the bandage or touching the infected wound.
  • Do not share personal items. Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, washcloths, razors, clothing, or athletic uniforms that may have had contact with the infected wound or bandage.
  • Wash sheets, towels, and clothes that become soiled with hot water and laundry detergent. Drying clothes in a hot dryer, rather than air-drying, also helps kill bacteria.
  • Keep counter tops, tubs and sinks clean. Frequently clean household surfaces that come into direct contact with your wound, your wound drainage, or your hands after you have tended to your infection.
  • Talk to your healthcare providers. While you are healing, tell any healthcare providers who treat you that you have an MRSA skin infection. In the future, tell your healthcare providers that you have had an MRSA infection.