Staph Infection (MRSA)

Staph is the short name for the common bacteria called staphylococcus aureus. Staph bacteria are often present on the skin without causing an infection. If it gets inside the skin, an infection occurs. This causes redness, tenderness, swelling, and sometimes fluid drainage.

MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant staph aureus. Unlike a common staph infection, MRSA bacteria are resistant to the usual antibiotics and harder to treat. Also, MRSA can cause more troublesome and recurrent skin infections than common staph bacteria. It is also more likely to spread throughout the body and cause a life-threatening illness, though this is unusual.

MRSA is spread to others by direct physical contact with the bacteria. MRSA can also be spread from items contaminated by a person who has the bacteria, such as bandages, towels, bed sheets, hard surfaces, or sports equipment. It is generally not spread through the air.  But you can get it if you come in direct contact with the fluid from someone's cough or sneeze.  Once you have a MRSA skin infection, you are at risk of having it again.

If your healthcare provider thinks you have a MRSA infection, he or she may take a wound culture to confirm the diagnosis. If you have an abscess, your provider may drain it. He or she may prescribe one or more antibiotics that work against MRSA and may recommend that you clean your skin, the skin of your closest contacts, and things that you touch or wear to get rid of chronic MRSA infection at these sites.

Home care

  • Take any antibiotics prescribed exactly as directed. Don't stop taking them until they are gone or your healthcare provider tells you to stop, even if you feel better.

  • If your healthcare provider prescribed disinfecting washes (such as chlorhexidine 4% soap) or antibiotic ointment, use it as directed.

  • Cover your wounds with clean, dry bandages. Change dressings as they become soiled. Wash your hands well each time you change the bandage or touch the wound.

  • Remove any artificial nails and nail polish.

Treating household members and your environment

If you have been diagnosed with possible MRSA infection, those living with you are at higher risk of carrying the bacteria on their skin or in their nose, even if there is no sign of infection. Bacteria must be removed from the skin of all household members at the same time so it is not passed back and forth. Advise them to remove the bacteria as follows:

  • Household member should wash with chlorhexidine 4% soap as well.

  • If anyone in the household has a skin infection, it must be treated by a healthcare provider.

  • Clean counter tops, other hard surfaces that you contact, and children's toys.

  • Don't share personal items such as toothbrush and razors.

Preventing spread of infection

  • Wash your hands often with plain soap and warm water. Be sure to clean under the fingernails, between the fingers, and the wrists. Dry hands with a single use towel (for example a paper towel). If soap and water are not available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Rub the sanitizer over the entire surface of the hands, fingers, and wrists until dry.

  • Don't share personal items such as towels, washcloths, razors, clothing, or uniforms. Wash soiled sheets, towels or clothes in hot water with laundry detergent. Use an automatic clothes dryer set on high to kill any remaining bacteria.

  • If you use a gym, wipe down equipment with an alcohol-based sanitizer before and after each use.  Wipe the handgrips as well.

  • If you participate in sports, shower with plain soap after every activity. Use a clean towel for each shower.

Follow-up care

Follow-up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. If a wound culture was taken, call as directed for the results. You will be told about any changes to your treatment.

If you are diagnosed with MRSA, tell medical personnel in the future that you have been treated for this type of infection.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider if any of the following occur:

  • Increasing redness, swelling or pain

  • Red streaks in the skin around the wound

  • Weakness or dizziness

  • New appearance of pus or drainage from the wound

  • New fever over 100.4º F (38.0º C), or as directed by the healthcare provider

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© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.