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Methicillin-Resistant Staph Infection

(MRSA; Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Infection; Infection, Methicillin-Resistant; Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Community-Acquired MRSA; CA-MRSA; Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Nosocomial MRSA; Healthcare-Associated MRSA; HA-MRSA)

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Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention


A methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection is caused by a bacteria that resists many antibiotics that are used to treat infections . The bacteria can affect the skin, blood, bones, or lungs. A person can either be infected or colonized with MRSA. When a person is infected, the bacteria cause symptoms. A person colonized also has the bacteria, but it may not cause any symptoms. An MRSA infection can be serious because of the resistance to antibiotics.

There are two types of MRSA infection: community-acquired and nosocomial. People who have a community-acquired MRSA infection were infected outside of a hospital setting. Nosocomial MRSA infections occur in healthcare settings such as hospitals or clinics.


An MRSA infection is caused by a bacteria. The cause of the resistance to the bacteria is from excessive exposure to antibiotics over time. The bacteria adapts to the antibiotics.

Risk Factors

An MRSA infection can spread several ways:

  • Contaminated surfaces
  • Person-to-person
  • From one area of the body to another

The following factors increase your chance of infection. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:

  • Community-acquired:
    • Impaired immunity
    • Sharing crowded spaces such as dormitories or locker rooms
    • Using IV drugs
    • Having a serious illness
    • Age: Child
    • Being an athlete, especially in sports using direct contact such as wrestling and football
    • Being a prisoner
    • Being a member of the military
    • Exposure to animals such as being a pet owner, veterinarian, or pig farmer
    • Using antibiotics
    • Having a chronic skin disorder
    • Having a wound
    • Being infected with MRSA in the past
  • Nosocomial—healthcare-associated:
    • Exposure to hospital or clinical settings
    • Living in a long-term care center
    • Impaired immunity
    • Advanced age
    • Sex: male
    • Using antibiotics
    • Having a wound


If you experience any of these symptoms, do not assume it is an MRSA infection. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your doctor.

  • A rash that may have discharge
  • An area of the skin that is swollen and red
  • Blisters on the skin

Infected Hair Follicle—Folliculitis

Inflammed hair follicle
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Skin biopsy
  • Wound cultures


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:

Antibiotics are given to kill the bacteria. Only a few antibiotics are available that can treat an MRSA infection.

Your doctor may open the abscess and allow the fluid to drain. Do not attempt to do this on your own.

Do the following to treat the infection and to keep it from spreading:

  1. Wash your skin with an antibacterial cleanser.
  2. Cover your skin with a sterile dressing.

Decolonization is a process to help rid your body of the bacteria so you do not reinfect yourself. This process may involve using nasal ointments, washing with special soap, and taking medications, including antibiotics. Decolonization is only recommended in certain cases.


To help reduce your chance of getting an MRSA infection, take the following steps:

  • Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Keep cuts and wounds clean and covered until healed.
  • Avoid contact with other people’s wounds and materials contaminated by wounds.
  • If you are hospitalized, visitors and healthcare workers may be required to wear special clothing and gloves. This will help prevent spreading the infection to others.
  • Clean surfaces to eliminate bacteria.
  • If advised by your doctor, use nasal ointments, wash with special soap, and take medications to prevent the bacteria from infecting you again.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases



Public Health Agency of Canada



Barton M, Hawkes M, et al. Guidelines for the prevention and management of community-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus: A perspective for Canadian health care practitioners. Can J Infect Dis Med Microbiol. 2006;17(Suppl C):4C.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://dynamed.ebscohost.com. Updated July 1, 2003. Accessed September 9, 2013.

MRSA decolonization. Aurora BayCare Medical Center website. Available at: http://www.aurorahealthcare.org/FYWB_pdfs/baycare/x34012bc.pdf. Updated October 2010. Accessed September 9, 2013.

Seasonal flu and staph infection. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/flustaph.htm. Updated February 8, 2011. Accessed September 9, 2013.

MRSA. Nemours Foundation Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/infections/bacterial_viral/mrsa.html. Updated August 2011. Accessed September 9, 2013.

Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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