College of American Pathologists
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  Staphylococcus aureus
  (MRSA) Infection Information




Posted November 14, 2007

What is MRSA?
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of bacteria that causes “staph” infections. It is commonly referred to as a “superbug” that does not respond to treatment with common antibiotics, such as penicillins.

How is it transmitted?
MRSA is usually transmitted by direct skin-to-skin contact or contact with shared items or surfaces that have come into contact with someone else’s infection (e.g., towels, used bandages). Patients who already have a MRSA infection, or who carry the bacteria on their bodies but do not have symptoms, are the most common sources of transmission.

What does a MRSA infection look like?
Most MRSA infections appear as pustules or boils on the skin, which often are red, swollen, painful, or have pus or other drainage. These skin infections commonly occur at sites of visible skin trauma, such as cuts and abrasions, and areas of the body covered by hair (e.g., back of neck, groin, buttock, armpit, beard area of men).

How is MRSA treated?
Almost all MRSA skin infections can be effectively treated by draining the sore, with or without antibiotics. More serious infections, such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections, or bone infections, are very rare in healthy people who get MRSA skin infections.

What can you do to protect yourself from getting MRSA?

  • Practice good hygiene (e.g., keep your hands clean by washing with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and showering immediately after participating in exercise);
  • Cover cuts or abrasions with a clean dry bandage until healed;
  • Avoid sharing personal items (e.g., towels, razors) that come into contact with your bare skin; and use a barrier (e.g., clothing or a towel) between your skin and shared equipment such as weight-training benches;
  • Maintain a clean environment by establishing cleaning procedures for frequently touched surfaces. The bacteria found in MRSA infections can live on common surfaces, such as a table, for days or weeks and can be transmitted when someone touches it.

Where do most MRSA infections occur?
In the past, MRSA has been primarily related to health care settings. Now, however, it is no longer confined to intensive care units, acute care hospitals, or any health care institution. A growing number of MRSA infections are also emerging in community gyms and schools. Additional settings that may provide more conducive conditions for MRSA include close quarters such as dormitories, military barracks, households, correctional facilities, and daycare centers.