Healthy Living

What Is MRSA Infection?

What Is MRSA Infection?

Key Takeaways

  • MRSA is the abbreviation for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a type of bacterium that causes a serious infection. 
  • There are two types of MRSA infections: hospital-acquired and community-acquired. 
  • MRSA infection is contagious and very serious. 

What is MRSA Infection ?

MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infection is a bacterial infection caused by Staphylococcus aureus that has become resistant to many of the antibiotics commonly used for the treatment of a staphylococcus infection (and is consequently called "the superbug").

Staphylococcus aureus naturally lives on the skin and in the nose without causing any problems. This is known as colonization. About 30% of people have this bacterium without knowing it and without getting infected. However, in certain cases, when these bacteria start to multiply uncontrollably, MRSA infection occurs.

Staphylococcus aureus is a gram-positive bacterium. People usually get infected with MRSA during hospitalization for other reasons, as well as while spending time in dialysis centers, nursing homes, and other places where people congregate. When an MRSA infection occurs during hospitalization, it is known as health care-associated MRSA; when an MRSA infection occurs in the community, it is known as community-associated MRSA.

An infection with MRSA is serious, but it can be successfully treated with antibiotics.

MRSA Causes

Certain people have an increased risk for MRSA infections compared with others. Risk factors also depend on MRSA infection type.

A person has an increased risk for a hospital-acquired MRSA infection in the following cases:

  • Lives in a nursing home
  • Has been hospitalized within the past three months regardless of reason
  • Has a chronic medical condition that has weakened the immune system
  • Undergoes dialysis regularly 

WhatisMRSA

A person has an increased risk for a community-acquired MRSA infection in the following cases:

  • Works at a daycare
  • Lives in unsanitary conditions 
  • Lives or works in crowded places
  • Plays contact sports
  • Is homosexual
  • Shares utensils or personal items (e.g. razors and towels) with other people

Signs and Symptoms of MRSA

The signs and symptoms of MRSA infection vary from one person to another, and also depends on the type of infection.

In community-acquired MRSA, the infection usually affects the skin. The infection is more likely to occur in areas that are covered with hair, such as the armpits or the back of the neck, and in places where the skin has a cut, scratch, or wound, as the skin barrier is damaged in such cases, normally making it easier for the bacteria to spread, multiply, and cause an infection of the affected area.

A painful and swollen bump is noticed on the skin, and often turns into a pimple. There is a head with a yellow or white center. Around the pimple or bump is a red and warm area, which is known as cellulitis. Also common is the presence of pus, which is also common and may drain from the affected area. Fever is also possible in certain cases.

In hospital-acquired MRSA, the infection is usually more serious, causing various complications that can even be life-threatening in cases. Possible complications of hospital-acquired MRSA include urinary tract infection, pneumonia, and sepsis.

You should seek immediate professional help if you experience any of the following:

How is MRSA spread? How contagious is MRSA?

MRSA is a bacterial infection that is very contagious, spreading from one person to another through direct contact as well as from touching contaminated surfaces or sharing personal items. MRSA can also move through the air. Usually, MRSA infection and any other Staph infection that is not methicillin-resistant are more contagious than people who are MRSA carriers but have not developed an infection. Nonetheless, these MRSA carriers can spread the infection to others just like those who have an active infection.

As mentioned, there are two types of MRSA infections: hospital-acquired MRSA infections and community-acquired MRSA infections.

Hospital-acquired MRSA infections are common among patients who have been hospitalized in the last three months and those who undergo hemodialysis on a regular basis. Meanwhile, community-acquired MRSA infections spread rapidly in schools, day care centers, and other places where people gather. 

MRSA is a very contagious bacterial infection, but the real problem with this infection is the fact that it is resistant to most of the antibiotics available on the market today, making its treatment very difficult and sometimes impossible. Due to this reason, it is a very dangerous infection. Hospital-acquired MRSA infection is especially dangerous as it can lead to serious or even fatal complications.

Another problem with MRSA infection is its ability to spread through the air. This means that a person runs the risk of getting infected simply by inhaling the air in hospitals, daycare centers, and nursing homes. One is also at greater risk of infection when taking care of another MRSA-infected person.

Who can get MRSA infection? Well, anyone can get a MRSA infection regardless of age, gender, profession, or other personal circumstances. Newborns, babies, toddlers, children, teenagers, adults, and the elderly can get infected. It does not matter whether you are rich or poor nor whether your living conditions are good or bad. However, at higher risk of getting an MRSA infection are young children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.

Direct contact with a person who is a MRSA carrier or who has a MRSA infection does not necessarily mean you will get an MRSA infection. Certain factors such as your overall health, the presence of any chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, age, the amount of exposure, route of exposure, and stress level, among others, will play an important role in whether you will get the infection. Good personal hygiene, especially regular hand-washing with water and soap will help you avoid getting this serious infection.

Staph bacteria can survive for weeks on various surfaces, and therefore easily spread and contaminate others. Moreover, these bacteria survive longer in humid and warm environments.

MRSA can easily enter your body through wounds, open cuts, surgical areas, the nose, mouth, and even lungs. Your pets can also get infected with MRSA, which means you can get the infection from them.

What is the MRSA rash?

MRSA can cause infections in various parts of the human body, especially on the skin. Hair-covered parts of the human body are more likely to get infected. The signs and symptoms of MRSA infection also depend on the location where the infection occurs. Among a number of symptoms of MRSA skin infection is that a rash occurs, especially when the infection has spread to soft tissue.

Cellulitis due to MRSA usually starts in a small area of the skin and is characterized by tenderness, swelling, and redness. As the inflammation spreads to the surrounding tissue, pain is also common. Cellulitis usually occurs on the lower legs even though it can occur on any part of the human body. Cellulitis not only can affect the surface of the skin, but also can get into the underlying tissue, lymph nodes, and the bloodstream. If left untreated, cellulitis can easily turn into a life-threatening condition, especially if the infection enters the bloodstream, leading to sepsis.

Another skin infection that MRSA causes is impetigo. Impetigo is a highly contagious skin infection that is characterized by painful red sores that can break open, ooze, and become crusty, and occur mostly on the face, hands, and neck. The most common victims of impetigo are children and infants. There are different types of impetigo such as impetigo contagious, impetigo bullosa, and ecthyma, which is the most serious form of impetigo as it affects the skin more deeply than the other two types of impetigo.

MRSA precautions

As mentioned, MRSA infection is a serious problem with possible life-threatening complications. For this reason, it should be taken seriously, especially in cases of hospital-acquired MRSA infections.

The following measures can help prevent community-acquired MRSA infection:

  1. Cover any wounds and sores with dressing until they are completely healed in order to prevent any surface contamination, and, if a Staph infection has caused them, for other people not to get infected.
  2. Avoid sharing personal items with others. Do not share razors, towels, sheets, etc.
  3. Wash your linen and clothes well, especially if you have a skin infection or wound caused by a Staph infection. Wash and sanitize them in hot water, using extra bleach, followed by drying them at high heat.
  4. Wash your hands carefully. This is perhaps the most important measure that will help prevent many diseases, not just Staph infections. You should wash and scrub your hands carefully with water and soap for at least 15 seconds before rinsing and drying them. Make sure not to share with others the towel you use to dry your hands with.

With hospital-acquired MRSA infections, the best option to prevent the spread of the infection is isolating the affected patient. Any medical personnel who attends the MRSA-infected person should use protective gloves and garments to prevent any contact with contaminated surfaces as well as wash the hands after any medical manipulation. Any area of the hospital that might be infected, including the linen and towels used by the infected patient should be properly disinfected.

An important note on antibiotics:

It is very important to use antibiotics just as prescribed by your doctor in order to prevent the development of resistance. Antibiotic resistance develops due to the following reasons:

  • Antibiotics are used in an inappropriate way, such as for treating viral infections, when it is well-known that they are only recommended in cases of bacterial infection and have no effect at all on viral infections.
  • Antibiotics are not used as prescribed, as when the entire treatment is not completed for some reason, usually because people tend to stop them once they get relief from symptoms and start feeling better.
  • Antibiotics are used in order to prevent any possible illness when there is no real need for them.

It is very important to take antibiotics as well as any other medication just as your doctor prescribed it, in the recommended doses, and for the recommended period of time. 

MRSA treatment and antibiotics

Anytime an MRSA infection is suspected, proper diagnosis is required before the right treatment is recommended. Diagnosis of MRSA infection begins with a detailed medical history and physical examination. Samples from the affected area and other samples such as sputum cultures, wound cultures, blood cultures, and urine cultures are obtained in order to determine the presence of MRSA bacteria.

Once an MRSA infection has been diagnosed, it is important to determine if it is hospital-acquired or community-acquired, as the treatments differ.

For cases of community-acquired MRSA infection, oral antibiotics are prescribed. A hospital-acquired MRSA infection, however, calls for a more serious approach as there is a great possibility of life–threatening complications. In such cases, intravenous antibiotics are needed for a period of time, the duration of which depends on the severity of the infection and the development of complications.

In case of a skin infection with a visible collection of pus, drainage of the affected area is performed. This procedure is performed under local anesthesia, followed by oral antibiotics in order to prevent recurrence.

The treatment of MRSA infection with antibiotics will depend on the type of infection, the severity of the signs and symptoms, the location of the infection, and the antibiotics which the specific MRSA strain present does not have a resistance to.

For cases of MRSA skin and soft tissue infection, the most commonly-used antibiotics are Rifampin, Clindamycin, Trimethoprim, Sulfamethoxazole, and Tetracycline.