June 16, 2016

A methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus infection is caused by a type of staph bacteria that has become resistant to many of the antibiotics used to treat ordinary staph infections. Since methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus is such a mouthful, it is often referred to as MRSA.

MRSA cases tend to increase in the summer months so be mindful of what to look out for, when to seek medical help and how to avoid getting infected in the first place.

Back in the 1940s, physicians began treating staph infections with penicillin. But overuse and misuse of the drug helped the microbes evolve with resistance to penicillin by the 1950s.  According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, doctors then began using methicillin to counter the increasing problem of penicillin-resistant staph infections, and the new drug quickly became the common treatment for S. aureus. British scientists discovered MRSA in 1961, and the first case of this “superbug” in the United States occurred in 1968. With time, strains of MRSA developed resistances to other penicillin-related antibiotics.

Today MRSA is now resistant to an entire class of penicillin-like antibiotics called beta-lactams, which includes amoxicillin, oxacillin, methicillin and many others.

What causes MRSA?

Many healthy people carry staph without being infected by it. In fact, one third of everybody has staph bacteria in their noses.

Staphylococcus aureus can cause skin infections including boils, pimples, impetigo, abscesses and wound infections. Staph bacteria also can enter the body and then the bloodstream through broken or damaged skin or during medical procedures, and can cause infections and resulting conditions that range from mild to severely life-threatening.   Annually, there are around 94,000 invasive MRSA infections diagnosed in the US, with 18,600 associated deaths.

MRSA can spread from person-to-person (skin-to-skin contact) and from person-to-object-to-person when an individual has active MRSA or is colonized by the bacteria. Person-to-person transmission is more common among certain populations that share close quarters or have more skin-to-skin contact. In addition, the person-to-object-to-person MRSA bacteria is able to survive for extensive periods of time on surfaces and objects including door handles, floors, sinks, taps, cleaning equipment and fabric.

Health care-associated MRSA:
MRSA frequently causes illnesses with a compromised immune system among those who interact with or reside in hospitals or health care facilities. This is referred to as health care-associated MRSA (or hospital-acquired MRSA). People most at risk of developing health care-associated MRSA in the hospital include those with weakened immune systems, open wounds, a catheter or intravenous drip, burns or cuts to the skin surface, sever skin conditions and/or have had surgery or frequent antibiotics as part of their treatment. It is estimated that 49% – 65% of health care associated S. aureus infections are caused by methicillin-resistant strains.

Community-associated MRSA :
This type of MRSA is contracted external to a hospital or health care setting and is less widespread compared with health-care associated MRSA. Factors that cause increased risk of contracting community-associated MRSA include regular skin-to-skin interaction in contact or collision sports such as ruby, ice hockey, soccer and basketball. However, MRSA outbreaks have occurred among high school or college athletes, not from a particular sport but because of locker room, linen and equipment contamination or lack of hygiene.

Also, those who live with a lot of people such as on military bases, jails, on-campus housing and summer camps also are at a higher risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 14% of people with MRSA infections contracted them from outside the health care setting, and the average age of the person with the community-associated MRSA was 23.

The “5 Cs” can be used to remember what factors make it easier for MRSA to be transmitted:

  • Crowding
  • Contact (skin-to-skin)
  • Compromised skin (open wounds)
  • Contaminated (items and surfaces)
  • Cleanliness (lack of)

Staph skin infections, including MRSA, begin as swollen, painful red bumps that might resemble pimples, spider or ant bites. The affected area might be warm to the touch, full of pus or other drainage and accompanied by a fever. These infections can quickly turn into deep, painful abscesses that require surgical draining. If the bacteria burrow deeper, they can cause infections throughout the body, including the bloodstream, heart, bones, joints, lungs and surgical wounds, which can result in chest pain, fever and even death.

When to seek medical treatment:

Pay close attention and keep an eye on minor skin problems – pimples, insect bites, cuts and scrapes – especially in children. If wounds appear infected or are accompanied by a fever, see your doctor as soon as possible. Under no circumstances try to lance this infection on your own!

If your MRSA infection is considered to be mild, the physician probably will drain the skin boil or abscess, then cover the wound with a clean dressing. The dressing should be changed regularly. In addition, your physician may prescribe an ointment that includes mupirocin. Many times, this ointment is all that is needed to treat the infection. If your physician prescribes an antibiotic, be sure to take all the doses of the antibiotic even if you’re feeling better, unless your doctor tells you otherwise. Schedule a follow-up visit to make sure the site is healing well and call your doctor if you don’t see any improvement after a few days.

You may need to be hospitalized if you have a severe case of MRSA, if you have other health problems, or if your infection is life-threatening and/or may cause the loss of a limb.


MRSA infections can resist the effects of many antibiotics, and for that reason they are more difficult to treat. This can allow infections to spread and perhaps become life-threatening. If these bacteria burrow deeper, they can cause infections throughout the body, including in the bloodstream, heart, bones, joints, lungs and surgical wounds. The end result can be chest pain, fever and even death.

To prevent staph or a MRSA skin infection, follow good hygiene:
  • Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed
  • Avoid contact with other people’s wounds and bandages
  • Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, washcloths, razors, bars of soap, nail clippers, clothing, uniforms and sheets
  • Do not use your own bath towel, wash cloth or hand towel at home for multiple days

While some antibiotics are still effective, MRSA is constantly changing and adapting. Researchers developing new antibiotics to fight MRSA are having a challenging time keeping up.  All Texas MedClinic locations can diagnose and treat MRSA; if you think you have a skin infection visit the nearest clinic for an evaluation.

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