Roanoke College

Staph or MRSA infections



What is a "staph" infection?

Staphylococcus aureus (staph) is a common type of bacteria (germ) that is often found on the skin and in the nose of healthy people. It can also grow in wounds or other sites in the body, sometimes causing an infection. Approximately 25%-30% of the population is colonized (when bacteria are present, but not causing an infection) in the nose with staph bacteria. Staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infections in the United States. Most of these skin infections are minor (such as pimples and boils) and can be treated without antibiotics.

What is MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)?

Penicillin is a drug that was once commonly used to treat staph infections. However, over time many staph infections have become difficult to treat with penicillin and antibiotics related to penicillin including methicillin, oxacillin, and amoxicillin. These new or resistant forms of Staphylococcus aureus are referred to as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. The illnesses they cause are the same as those caused by other staph; the difference is in how they are treated.

Who gets staph or MRSA infections?

Anyone can get a staph infection, however they occur most frequently among persons in hospitals and healthcare facilities (such as nursing homes and dialysis centers) who have weakened immune systems. These healthcare associated staph infections include surgical wound infections, urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections, and pneumonia.

Factors that have been associated with the spread of MRSA skin infections include:

  • Close skin-to-skin contact with someone who has a staph infection
  • Openings in the skin such as cuts and abrasions
  • Crowded living conditions
  • Poor hygiene
  • Contact with contaminated items and surfaces

What are the symptoms of infection?

Many people carry staph bacteria on their skin without any symptoms. Symptoms of a MRSA or other staph infection depend on where the infection is located. Infections of the skin are most common, and cause symptoms such as redness, pain, warmth, pus and a wound that does not heal. More serious staph infections, like pneumonia, may cause symptoms of shortness of breath, fever, and chills.

What should I do if I think I have a MRSA or other staph infection?

See your healthcare provider. How is MRSA infection diagnosed? A culture of the drainage from the infection site should be obtained and sent to the laboratory. Are MRSA and other staph infections treatable? Yes. Some staph skin infections can be treated simply by draining the sore and keeping the wound clean. For more serious infections, antibiotics can be used. If antibiotics are prescribed by your healthcare provider, it is very important to finish taking all pills and to call your doctor if the infection does not get better.

What can I do to prevent MRSA and other staph infections?

  • Wash your hands often, especially when you're exposed to someone with an infection or when you touch objects that may be contaminated.
  • Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered.
  • Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, sports equipment, razors, etc.
  • If a sore or cut becomes red, oozes, causes pain or isn't healing, see a doctor.
  • Don't insist on antibiotics for colds or other viruses.
  • If prescribed antibiotics, take all the pills, even if you feel better before they are all gone.