What is MRSA and how to protect yourself.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, more popularly known as MRSA is caused by a strain of staph bacteria that’s become resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat ordinary staph infections.
Most MRSA infections occur in people who’ve been in hospitals or other health care settings, such as nursing homes and dialysis centers. When it occurs in these settings, it’s known as health care-associated MRSA (HA-MRSA). HA-MRSA infections typically are associated with invasive procedures or devices, such as surgeries, intravenous tubing or artificial joints.
Another type of MRSA infection has occurred in the wider community — among healthy people. This form, community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA), often begins as a painful skin boil. It’s spread by skin-to-skin contact. At-risk populations include groups such as high school wrestlers, child care workers and people who live in crowded conditions.
If not treated promptly and correctly MRSA can lead to serious health complications, even death. MRSA generally starts as small red bumps that resemble pimples, boils or spider bites. These can quickly turn into deep, painful abscesses that require surgical draining. Sometimes the bacteria remain confined to the skin. But they can also burrow deep into the body, causing potentially life-threatening infections in bones, joints, surgical wounds, the bloodstream, heart valves and lungs.
Always keep a close eye on minor skin conditions, particularly in children. If a wound becomes infected see a doctor immediately. MRSA is not something you should attempt to treat on your own, as it can worsen rapidly and can spread to other people.
Where are you most likely to get MRSA?
Because hospital and community strains of MRSA generally occur in different settings, the risk of contracting the two strains differ.
Risk factors for health care-associated MRSA
- Being hospitalized. MRSA remains a concern in hospitals, where it can attack those most vulnerable — older adults and people with weakened immune systems.
- Having an invasive medical device. Medical tubing — such as intravenous lines or urinary catheters — can provide a pathway for MRSA to travel into your body.
- Residing in a long-term care facility. MRSA is prevalent in nursing homes. Carriers of MRSA have the ability to spread it, even if they’re not sick themselves.
Risk factors for community-associated MRSA
- Participating in contact sports. MRSA can spread easily through cuts and abrasions and skin-to-skin contact.
- Living in crowded or unsanitary conditions. Outbreaks of MRSA have occurred in military training camps, child care centers and jails.
- Men having sex with men. Homosexual men have a higher risk of developing MRSA infections.
Tests and diagnosis
Doctors diagnose MRSA by checking a tissue sample or nasal secretions for signs of drug-resistant bacteria. The sample is sent to a lab where it’s placed in a dish of nutrients that encourage bacterial growth. But because it takes about 48 hours for the bacteria to grow, newer tests that can detect staph DNA in a matter of hours are now becoming more widely available.
Treatments and drugs
Both health care-associated and community-associated strains of MRSA still respond to certain antibiotics. In some cases, antibiotics may not be necessary. Doctors may drain a superficial abscess caused by MRSA rather than treat the infection with drugs.
How to protect yourself from MRSA
- In the hospital, people who are infected or colonized with MRSA often are placed in isolation as a precaution to prevent the spread of MRSA. Visitors and health care workers caring for people in isolation may be required to wear protective garments and must follow strict hand hygiene procedures. Contaminated surfaces and laundry items should be properly disinfected.
- Wash your hands. Careful hand-washing remains your best defense against germs. Scrub hands briskly for at least 15 seconds, then dry them with a disposable towel and use another towel to turn off the faucet. Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer containing at least 62 percent alcohol for times when you don’t have access to soap and water.
- Keep wounds covered. Keep cuts and abrasions clean and covered with sterile, dry bandages until they heal. The pus from infected sores may contain MRSA, and keeping wounds covered will help keep the bacteria from spreading.
- Keep personal items personal. Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, sheets, razors, clothing and athletic equipment. MRSA spreads on contaminated objects as well as through direct contact.
- Shower after athletic games or practices. Shower immediately after each game or practice. Use soap and water. Don’t share towels.
- Sanitize linens. If you have a cut or sore, wash towels and bed linens in a washing machine set to the hottest water setting (with added bleach, if possible) and dry them in a hot dryer. Wash gym and athletic clothes after each wearing.
With fall sports right around the corner be sure to protect yourself and see a doctor if you have cuts or scrapes that become infected. Still have questions about MRSA? Tweet us @ShepardMedical more information