You've probably heard about MRSA skin infections. The good news is that serious
MRSA infections are rare, and most infections can be treated easily. So what is MRSA
and how can you protect yourself?
What Is MRSA?
MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.
is a type of bacteria with lots of different strains.
Many strains of staph bacteria are quite common. Most people have staph bacteria
living on their skin or in their noses without it causing any problems. If staph bacteria
get into a person's body through a cut, scrape, or rash, they can cause minor skin
infections. Most of these heal on their own if a person keeps the wound clean
and bandaged. Sometimes doctors prescribe antibiotics to treat more stubborn staph
MRSA is different from other staph bacteria because it has built up a resistance
to most of the
doctors usually use to treat staph infections.
(Methicillin is a type of antibiotic, which is why the strain is called "methicillin-resistant.")
MRSA skin infections often develop around open sores, like cuts, scrapes,
or bites; but they also can occur on intact skin. Red, swollen, painful bumps
appear that sometimes weep fluid or pus. Some people also develop a fever.
How Do People Get It?
In the past, MRSA usually affected people with weakened immune systems, like people living
in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
But now some otherwise healthy people who are not considered at risk for MRSA are
getting the infection. Doctors call this type of infection community-associated
MRSA (CA-MRSA) because it affects people outside of hospitals and nursing
homes. People at greater risk for becoming infected with this germ are those who spend
a lot of time together in groups, such as in schools, college dorms, or military barracks.
When lots of people come together and are likely to touch the same surfaces, have
skin-to-skin contact, or share equipment that has not been cleaned, an infection can
spread faster than it would otherwise. If the MRSA bacteria get onto a kneepad, for
example, and someone with a skinned knee wears the pad without cleaning it, that person's
risk of infection is higher.
during a skin infection. Sometimes, people can be "carriers"
of MRSA, which means the bacteria stay on or in their body for days, weeks, or
even years. They can spread it to others, even if their skin looks normal. That's
hand washing is so important.
The bacterial changes that lead to resistance can be caused by improper usage of
antibiotics, such as:
taking antibiotics for things that they can't cure, like viruses
not taking antibiotics properly when they are appropriate (for example, not taking
all the medicine prescribed or taking another person's medicine that wasn't prescribed
The good news is that MRSA infections are rare in teens. And if a healthy
person does get one, a doctor can treat it.
How Can I Protect Myself?
MRSA may sound scary because it is resistant to some antibiotics. But it's actually
easy to prevent MRSA from spreading by practicing simple cleanliness.
Protect yourself by following these tips:
Wash your hands
often using plain soap and water for at least 20 seconds each time. You might also
want to carry alcohol-based instant hand sanitizers or wipes in your bag for times
when you can't wash your hands.
Don't share razors, towels, uniforms, or other items that come into contact with
Cover shared sports equipment with a barrier (clothing or a towel) to prevent
skin from touching it. The equipment also should be cleaned before each use with a
disinfectant that works against MRSA.
How Is MRSA Treated?
MRSA infections can need different medicines and approaches to treatment than other
staph infections. For example, if a person has a skin abscess caused by MRSA, the
doctor is more likely to have to drain the pus from the abscess in order to clear
In addition to draining the area, doctors may prescribe antibiotics for some people
with MRSA infections. In a few cases, MRSA can spread throughout the body and cause
problems like blood and joint infections — although complications like these are very
rare in healthy people.
People with infections also can help prevent other bacteria from becoming resistant
to antibiotics in the future by taking the antibiotics that have been prescribed for
them in the full amount until the prescription is finished (unless a doctor tells
them it's OK to stop early). Germs that are allowed to hang around after incomplete
treatment of an infection are more likely to become resistant to antibiotics.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Call the doctor if:
You have an area of skin that is red, painful, swollen, and/or filled with pus.
You have an area of swollen, painful skin and also feel feverish or sick.
Skin infections seem to be passing from one family member to another (or among
students in your school) or if two or more family members have skin infections at
the same time.
Serious cases of MRSA are still rare. By taking these easy prevention steps, you
can help keep it that way!