Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a bacterium that is resistant to (unaffected by) many commonly used antibiotics. MRSA commonly causes skin infections and can rarely cause serious infections.

Once seen mostly in the health care setting, MRSA has more recently emerged as a threat in the community as well. In the community, most MRSA infections are skin infections. When MRSA develops in a health care setting, it can cause life-threatening infections of the bloodstream, pneumonia, and infections where a surgical incision is made.

What is Staphylococcus aureus?

Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium that commonly lives in the nostrils. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one-third of people carry this bacterium in their nose, mostly without any harm. When this bacterium becomes resistant to commonly used antibiotics, such as methicillin and its related antibiotics, it is called MRSA.

The number of people who get MRSA skin infections in the community is not known. Children can carry MRSA in the nose as well as in the groin area and other sites. The rate of MRSA carriage in children has increased in recent years, and it is common for healthy adults and children to carry MRSA. In most cases, this does not cause any problems.

How is MRSA spread in the community?

MRSA can be spread during activities that involve touching or skin-to-skin contact, such as in household settings, athletics (for example, wrestling and football) and day care. One way of getting MRSA is to make direct contact with a wound infected with MRSA. Also, if someone with a wound infected with MRSA wipes the wound with a towel or other item, the bacteria will spread to that item. Anyone who comes into contact with it risks getting MRSA.

Locker rooms, dorms, schools, and day care centers are especially likely areas for spread of MRSA because there is close person-to-person contact in these settings. Sharing any items with someone who was recently in the hospital or other inpatient setting can also spread MRSA if the hospitalized person came into contact with MRSA.

In a study of patients with MRSA skin infections who were seen in the emergency department, the authors found that the risk of community-acquired MRSA was higher in those who:

  • Used an antibiotic in the past month;
  • Had a history of MRSA infection; or,
  • Had close contact with a person with a similar infection.

Other studies have found that one or more hospital admissions, a recent nursing home admission, or a chronic (long-term) illness increased the risk.

What does a MRSA infection look like?

Many people who get a MRSA skin infection mistake it for a spider bite because it can appear as a dark center surrounded by a tender area. It often appears as a swollen red bump, similar to a pimple, with a rim of pus around it. The wound is painful. The person may develop a fever to go with the wound.

Why is MRSA infection considered so serious?

MRSA has proven resistant to most of the antibiotics used to treat it. However, most individuals who develop MRSA infections do well and the infection is localized (contained) to the skin. Very rarely, the bacteria can spread to the bloodstream or to distant sites to cause a serious bloodstream infection called sepsis, pneumonia, bone infection, and organ damage.

Most people in good health who get community-acquired MRSA will recover. Frequently, the infected wound may require surgical or local drainage. An antibiotic is frequently prescribed that is active against MRSA. In such cases, it is important to take the full course of the prescribed antibiotic.

It is common for people who develop skin infections from MRSA to have a recurrence (return) of infection at the same site or a different site, even after adequate treatment. Why this occurs in some people and not others is not known. People who develop recurrent infections generally do well with drainage and antibiotic therapy.

People who get MRSA in the healthcare setting tend to have longer hospital stays and are more likely to be readmitted to the hospital than uninfected patients.

If I have any signs of a skin infection, what should I do?

See a doctor as soon as possible. Cover the infection with a bandage until you can be seen by a doctor.

How can I reduce my risk of getting MRSA?

Good hygiene is key:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Shower immediately after you engage in activity that involves direct skin contact with others.
  • Clean and cover any cuts or scrapes you get.
  • Don’t share personal items.

How can I avoid spreading MRSA if I might have it?

  • See a doctor early if you suspect you have a skin infection. Do not try to drain a wound yourself, because pus from an infected wound can contain MRSA.
  • Keep any wound covered with a clean, dry bandage.
  • Wash your hands often and don’t share personal items.
  • Immediately wash any items that come into contact with the infected wound.

© Copyright 1995-2017 The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. All rights reserved.

This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 11/10/2017…#11633