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MRSA Frequently Asked Questions

What is MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus)?

MRSA is a type of Staph germ, or bacterial infection, which is hard to treat with some commonly used antibiotic medicines. It has developed resistance, or the inability of certain antibiotics to kill the germ.

Because of resistance, MRSA can be hard to treat and can lead to life-threatening blood or bone infections.

MRSA accounts for the most frequent cause of skin and soft tissue infections presenting to emergency rooms in the U.S. Many cases of MRSA infections in the current epidemic are community-acquired (called CA-MRSA). The rise in cases of CA-MRSA has been ongoing at least since 1999.

In hospitalized patients, MRSA has been a problem since the 1960s and is associated with greater lengths of stay, higher death rates and increased costs. This type of MRSA is termed hospital-acquired MRSA or HA-MRSA.

Both CA-MRSA and HA-MRSA can cause minor problems such as boils, and more rarely can progress to serious or life-threatening infections.

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What does a MRSA infection look like?

It resembles a spider bite.

Symptoms may include redness, warmth, swelling, pus, skin tenderness, pimples, boils or blisters. MRSA-infected skin lesions (sores) can change from skin or surface irritations to abscesses or serious skin infections.

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How is MRSA spread? 

MRSA lives on skin and survives on objects and surfaces for more than 24 hours. Drainage (pus) from skin sores can spread bacteria to other body parts or to other people.

MRSA infections can be found in places where there are crowds of people such as schools or gyms.

MRSA is spread by direct, physical contact, as well as by touching objects such as towels, sheets, workout areas and sports equipment that have MRSA germs on them.

Staph bacteria can be found in the normal flora on the skin in about one-third of the population. If a person has staph on the skin or in the nose but is not feeling ill, it is considered to be "colonized" but not infected with MRSA. Healthy persons can be colonized with MRSA and have no ill effects, however, they can pass the germ to others.

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How can I prevent MRSA infections?

  • Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water.
  • Keep cuts clean and covered with a proper dressing or bandage until they are healed.
  • Avoid contact with other people's wounds or anything contaminated by a wound.
  • Avoid sharing personal items such as razors, towels, uniforms and sports equipment that directly touches your body.
  • Clean and disinfect objects (such as gym and sports equipment) before use.
  • Wash dirty clothes, linens and towels with hot water and laundry detergent. Using a hot dryer, rather than air-drying, also helps kill bacteria.

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What kind of treatment can I get for my MRSA infection?

Many MRSA infections can be treated by draining the abscess or boil and may not require antibiotics. Only healthcare providers should drain sores. Always keep draining sores covered to prevent others from getting sick.

ECMO—When more advanced life-saving care is required for treating MRSA, the ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta provides pediatric patients with the most advanced forms of life support available. ECMO allows time for patient’s lungs and heart to heal by using a heart-lung machine to oxygenate and purify the blood outside the body. These sophisticated heart and lung bypass machines assume a patient’s heart and lung functions allowing these organs to heal during critical illnesses such as MRSA.

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