Community-Associated MRSA Infections

What is MRSA?

MRSA stands for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus. 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. For example, staph is one of the most common causes of skin infections. Penicillin is a drug that was once commonly used to treat staph infections. However, over time many staph bacteria have become difficult to treat with penicillin and antibiotics related to penicillin. These new or resistant forms of Staphylococcus aureus are called 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.

Approximately 25-30% of the population has staph bacteria in their nose or on their skin, but do not become ill. This is known as being “colonized”. Only about 1% of the population is colonized with MRSA in particular. Staph infections, including MRSA, occur most frequently among persons in hospitals and health care facilities (such as nursing homes and dialysis centers) who have weakened immune systems. Staph and MRSA can also cause illness in persons outside of hospitals and healthcare facilities. These are referred to as community-associated MRSA (PDF) infections if the person has not recently been hospitalized or had a medical procedure. Most staph or MRSA infections in the community are skin infections, such as pimples and boils. These usually occur in otherwise healthy people.

Recently, there have been many reports in the media regarding MRSA infection. This may make it appear that MRSA is a new disease or that the risk of becoming ill with community-associated MRSA is suddenly much greater today than it was in the recent past. However, the truth is that MRSA has been around for a long time. Here are some key points regarding the risk of disease from staph and MRSA:

  • Most cases of Staphylococcus aureus infection are caused by organisms that are sensitive to most antibiotics, not by MRSA.
  • The vast majority of MRSA infections are not severe, rather they involve only the skin, which is more easily treated and is not as serious.
  • The seriousness of MRSA infection is not related to how contagious the infection is; severe infections are not spread more easily than simple infections, and MRSA infections are not more contagious than staph infections caused by organisms that are still sensitive to most antibiotics.

Preventing MRSA Infections

Staph and MRSA are passed from person to person through direct skin to skin contact or by touching items contaminated by an infected individual. The key ways to prevent the spread of MRSA include:

  • Proper hygiene, including hand washing and wound care. Hands should be washed frequently and thoroughly using soap and water or an alcohol based hand sanitizer.
  • Cuts and scrapes should be cleaned and covered with bandages. Hands should be washed after dressing wounds or handling used bandages.
  • Wounds that do not heal properly or have unusual amounts of drainage or pus need medical attention.
  • Avoid sharing personal items such as razors or towels.
  • Routine cleaning is all that is recommended. Because the bacteria live on the skin, they may be reintroduced into the environment at any time. Therefore, hand washing and wound care remain the primary means of preventing staph infections. Bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water) can be used to clean surfaces

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