You may have heard MRSA called a superbug. These bacteria cause potentially deadly staph infections that are resistant to common antibiotics. Stronger antibiotics may be needed to treat MRSA. Prevention tactics include keeping all wounds covered and practicing good handwashing techniques.
MRSA stands for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. It is a type of Staphylococcus aureus bacterium. These bacteria are resistant to common antibiotics, including methicillin. You may have read about MRSA being a superbug.
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Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria live in the nose or on skin. You can harbor staph bacteria, including MRSA, and not know it. A healthcare expert might refer to this as bacterial colonization.
Colonized people (carriers) may one day develop an MRSA infection, or they might stay healthy.
Staph, including MRSA, bacteria live in these body parts:
Approximately 1 in 3 Americans are carriers of staph bacteria at any time. Up to half of these could be MRSA. It's important to emphasize that Staph aureus or MRSA carriage is not a disease.
Two categories of MRSA are:
MRSA infection affects all ages and genders. Animals can carry MRSA, although they often get it from people. Intravenous drug users who share needles are 16 times more likely to get MRSA infection.
Certain workers and members of the community are more at risk for MRSA infection. These include:
Many people who carry MRSA never get sick. The bacterium remains within the skin or mucosa where it has established colonization. Problems arise when MRSA on the skin surface in a colonized person enters the skin through a wound or other opening and invades deeper structures.
You can get colonized with MRSA through direct contact with an infected person or animal. MRSA can survive on surfaces for hours, sometimes weeks. You can pick up the bacteria by touching or sharing contaminated items, such as:
MRSA can also cause deeper infections in different parts of the body. In severe infections the bacterium may invade the bloodstream, a situation which would be called a bloodstream infection. Symptoms of bloodstream infection include fever and chills.
To diagnose an MRSA infection, your healthcare provider will take a small sample of skin or discharge from an open wound. Your provider may order a blood test called a blood culture. A lab checks for MRSA in these samples.
MRSA infections can occur at various sites and may be serious, even life-threatening. Important MRSA infections include:
The two principles of treating Staph aureus infections, including MRSA infections, are source control and antibiotic therapy:
Milder infections can be treated with oral antibiotics (antibiotic pills). More severe infections may require intravenous antibiotic treatment. It is very important to take all of the antibiotics exactly as your healthcare provider prescribes.
You should also call your provider if an infection doesn’t start to clear up within a few days of taking a prescribed antibiotic. You may need to go to the hospital for stronger intravenous antibiotics.
You can lower your risk of getting MRSA by taking these steps:
Most MRSA skin infections clear up with treatment. MRSA is most dangerous if it enters the bloodstream. MRSA bloodstream infections can be serious. A bloodstream infection requires immediate medical attention.
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
You may want to ask your healthcare provider:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Many people carry Staph aureus or MRSA bacteria in their skin or noses for varying periods of time and never know it. This is not a problem. In some people, MRSA bacteria cause painful skin infections or more serious invasive infections. People in hospitals or nursing homes are at increased risk for MRSA infections. But you can pick up the bacteria in community settings, too. Contact your healthcare provider if you develop a skin infection or show signs of MRSA.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/19/2021.
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