MRSA -- or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus -- is a type of Staphylococcus bacteria that has become resistant to commonly used antibiotics. Certain factors may increase your risk of MRSA infection, but there are also preventive measures you can take to lower your risk. It's important to be able to recognize the signs of MRSA infection and pursue treatment quickly.
Why MRSA Is Concerning
Because MRSA is resistant to a number of antibiotics, infection can be difficult to treat. MRSA commonly affects the skin and the soft tissues immediately beneath the skin. Some infections spread rapidly or get into your bloodstream, where they may cause a potentially life-threatening condition called sepsis and harm internal organs. Although the frequency of MRSA infections in hospitals or other health care settings is decreasing, MRSA infections are becoming more common in otherwise healthy people.
The same risk factors that make you prone to any bacterial infection also increase your susceptibility to MRSA infection. In particular, risk increases if you have spent time in a hospital or long-term care facility, have a weakened immune system or have an indwelling device such as a bladder catheter or intravenous line. Even if you are otherwise healthy, you may be at increased risk if a family member has an MRSA infection, you participate in a sport involving skin-to-skin contact or shared equipment, or you share close living quarters with a number of other people.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
MRSA skin infections typically start as a small red bump that may look like a pimple, boil or spider bite. The area may then enlarge and become increasingly tender, swollen and warm to the touch. Skin and soft tissue infections often contain pus. If the infection spreads or enters the bloodstream, other organs can become involved, and symptoms such as fever and fatigue are more likely. In general, fever above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, a rapid heart rate and rapid breathing are all cause for concern. Blood tests and samples from infected tissue can help confirm the source of the infection.
MRSA of the skin and soft tissues can range from simple infections that may not require antibiotics to deadly infections that require prompt diagnosis and treatment. If you have a small area of infection, your doctor may simply make a small nick in the skin to allow the pus to drain out. Other kinds of skin and soft tissue infections, however, often require oral or even intravenous antibiotics. There are a number of factors that determine the most appropriate treatment in your situation, and guidelines issued by the Infectious Diseases Society of America are available to help your doctor make this decision.
Good hygiene is vital for prevention, including hand washing and taking care to clean and sanitize shared or reused equipment. In the health care setting, many precautions are taken to minimize the spread of infection, including the use of masks and gloves. Hospitalized patients with MRSA are often placed in isolation. If you visit someone in isolation, wearing protective garments and following strict hand washing procedures will help reduce your risk and inhibit the spread of infection.
Warnings and Precautions
Pay close attention to all cuts, scrapes, pimples and insect bites. Contact your doctor immediately if you notice that these are becoming redder, warmer or more painful, or if they seem to be spreading. Also seek prompt medical attention if you develop a fever. Do not try to drain a fluid-filled wound at home because you could make it worse or spread the infection to others. Instead, keep it covered and follow your doctor's instructions.