Staphylococcus aureus, also known as staph, is a very common bacterium that can live on the skin or in the noses of healthy people. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is a type of staph bacteria that cannot be treated with antibiotics called beta-lactams which include methicillin, oxacillin, penicillin, and amoxicillin. This resistance makes choosing the right antibiotic challenging. In the community, most MRSA infections are skin infections that cause skin lesions—such as pimples and boils—and are often easy to treat. MRSA in a hospital or healthcare setting can be a different strain than MRSA in the community. Resistant staph can be life-threatening to older people and those with weakened immune systems. Patients who are most at risk for serious infections are those with open wounds, burns, or tubes inserted in their bodies that provide a path for infection to be carried through the bloodstream and internal organs.
MRSA skin infections can often look like a spider bite. They appear as a bump or infected area of the skin that might be red, swollen, painful, warm to the touch, full of pus or other drainage, or accompanied by a fever. MRSA is spread through skin-to-skin contact, breaks in the skin, or less often, by touching surfaces that have resistant staph on them.
To prevent MRSA infections, follow these guidelines:
- Wash your hands often and well.
- Teach children to wash their hands regularly, such as before eating and after using the toilet.
- Shower after exercise.
- Clean and cover cuts, scrapes and wounds with bandages until healed.
- Don’t share personal items such as used razors, towels, or other objects that could pass bacteria from one person to another.
- Place barriers between skin and shared equipment such as placing a towel on weightlifting benches.
- Sanitize frequently touched surfaces.
- Be sure family members use antibiotics properly. Take all that are prescribed, even if the symptoms stop before the prescription is used up. Do not share prescriptions.
- Wash clothes and towels with hot water and detergent.
If you think you have an infected wound, contact your local healthcare provider as MRSA can only be diagnosed through a laboratory test. Treatment depends on the site and severity of the infection. It is important not to treat an infection yourself by picking or popping the sore.
Publication: Living with MRSA
Developed with help from people who are living with MRSA, this booklet provides basic information about caring for yourself and others diagnosed with MRSA.
- More information on MRSA in the community
- The Problem of Antibiotic Resistance factsheet
- MRSA factsheet
- MRSA factsheet for early childhood care and education professionals
Information about MRSA in Vermont
Individual cases of MRSA are not reportable in Vermont, so the Health Department does not have data on the number of cases. However, clusters of cases or outbreaks are reportable.
When people are in a hospital or health care setting, MRSA can be a serious disease leading to sepsis and death. Patients with weakened immune systems are often at risk of getting the disease as they may have non-intact skin or invasive tubes that could allow the organism to more easily enter the body. Healthcare providers must practice good handwashing to prevent the spread of the bacterium.
- More information on MRSA for patients
- More information for clinicians and health care facility administrators
Additional Resources for Health Care Providers:
- Resources from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology
- ISDA treatment guidelines for MRSA
- 2010 CDC presentation on MRSA epidemiology and prevention for health care providers
- MRSA Brochure for health care providers