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The development of antibiotics was one of the great breakthroughs in modern medicine. Because of antibiotics, it is now possible to successfully fight infections that would have been life-threatening in the past. For instance, antibiotics could be a life-saving treatment for people who have pneumonia (a bacterial lung infection), which is still a very common condition. But they can also relieve th... more

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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): A.D.A.M.; 2013.

A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

MRSA

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus; Hospital-acquired MRSA (HA-MRSA)

Last reviewed: April 9, 2012.

MRSA stands for methicillin-resistantStaphylococcus aureus. MRSA is a “staph” germ that does not get better with the first-line antibiotics that usually cure staph infections.

When this occurs, the germ is “resistant”to the antibiotic.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Most staph germs are spread by skin-to-skin contact (touching). A doctor, nurse, other health care provider, or visitors may have staph germs on their body that can spread to a patient.

Once the staph germ enters the body, it can spread to bones, joints, the blood, or any organ, such as the lungs, heart, or brain.

Serious staph infections are more common in people with a weakened immune system. This includes patients who:

  • Are in hospitals and long-term care facilities for a long time
  • Receive cancer treatment or medicines that weaken their immune system
  • Inject illegal drugs.
  • Had surgery in the past year

MRSA infections can also occur in healthy people who have not recently been in the hospital. Most of these MRSA infections are on the skin or less commonly lung infections. People who may be at risk are:

  • Athletes and other people who may share items such as towels or razors
  • Children in day-care
  • Members of the military
  • People who have gotten tattoos

Symptoms

It is normal for healthy people to have staph on their skin. Many of us do. Most of the time, it does not cause an infection or any symptoms. This is called “colonization” or “being colonized.” Someone who is colonized with MRSA can spread MRSA to other people.

A sign of a staph skin infection is a red, swollen, and painful area on the skin. Pus or other fluids may drain from this area. It may look like a boil. These symptoms are more likely to occur if the skin has been cut or rubbed because this gives the MRSA germ a way to “get in.” Symptoms are also more likely in areas where there is more body hair due to hair follicles.

MRSA infections in patients in health care facilities tend to be severe. These staph infections may be in the bloodstream, heart, lungs, or other organs, urine, or in the area of a recent surgery. Some symptoms of these severe infections are:

  • Chest pain
  • Cough or shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • General ill feeling
  • Headache
  • Rash
  • Wounds that do not heal

Signs and tests

Your doctor may order a “culture.” This is a sample from a wound, blood, urine, or sputum (spit). The sample is sent to the lab for testing. This testing can take a few days to finish.

Treatment

Draining a skin infection may be the only treatment needed for a skin MRSA infection that has not spread. A health care provider should do this procedure. Do not try to pop open or drain the infection yourself. Keep any sore or wound covered with a clean bandage.

Severe MRSA infections are becoming harder to treat. Your lab test results will tell the doctor which antibiotic will treat your infection. Your doctor will follow guidelines about which antibiotics to use and look at your personal health history. MRSA infections that are harder to treat are ones in:

  • People who are already ill or have a weak immune system

You may need to keep taking these antibiotics for a long time, even after you leave the hospital.

Support Groups

For more information about MRSA, see the Centers for Disease Control web site: www.cdc.gov/mrsa/.

Expectations (prognosis)

How well a person does depends on the severity of the infection and their overall health. MRSA-related pneumonia and blood infections are associated with high death rates.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you have any wound that seems to get worse instead of healing.

Prevention

The best way to prevent the spread of staph is for everyone to keep their hands clean. It is important to wash your hands properly.

  • Health care workers and other hospital staff can prevent staph.
  • Visitors also need to take steps to prevent spreading germs.

If you have surgery planned, tell your health care provider if:

  • You have frequent infections
  • You have had a MRSA infection before

References

  1. Fishman N, Calfee DP. Prevention and control of health care-associated infections.In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed.Philadelphia,PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 290.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections. Accessed April 17, 2011.
  3. Que YA, Moreillon P. Staphylococcus aureus (including staphylococcal toxic shock). In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 195.

Review Date: 4/9/2012.

Reviewed by: Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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  • Interventions to clear methicillin‐resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) from the lungs of people with cystic fibrosisInterventions to clear methicillin‐resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) from the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis
    Methicillin‐resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), is the name given to a particular bacteria which is resistant to some types of antibiotics. This is particularly worrying for people with cystic fibrosis, which is an inherited condition that causes thick mucus to build up in the lungs. It is very difficult for people with cystic fibrosis to cough up this thick mucus, making it an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, including MRSA, and making sufferers more prone to chest infections. It is thought that MRSA can cause more damage than other bacteria which are not resistant to antibiotics. We wanted to identify research evidence to support the best way for treating MRSA infections and also to see if this would improve the lives of people with cystic fibrosis.
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