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General Information: Persistent Rashes: Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA)

What is MRSA?
MRSA infection is caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria — often called "staph." MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. It's a strain of staph that's resistant to the broad-spectrum antibiotics commonly used to treat it. MRSA can be fatal.

Most MRSA infections occur in hospitals or other health care settings, such as nursing homes and dialysis centers. It's known as health care-associated MRSA, or HA-MRSA. Older adults and people with weakened immune systems are at most risk of HA-MRSA. More recently, another type of MRSA has occurred among otherwise healthy people in the wider community. This form, community-associated MRSA, or CA-MRSA, is responsible for serious skin and soft tissue infections and for a serious form of pneumonia.

Symptoms:
Staph skin infections, including MRSA, generally start as small red bumps that resemble pimples, boils or spider bites. These can quickly turn into deep, painful abscesses that require surgical draining. Sometimes the bacteria remain confined to the skin. But they can also penetrate into the body, causing potentially life-threatening infections in bones, joints, surgical wounds, the bloodstream, heart valves and lungs.

Causes
MRSA is a strain of staph that's resistant to the broad-spectrum antibiotics commonly used to treat it.

Staph infections
Staph bacteria are normally found on the skin or in the nose of about one-third of the population. If you have staph on your skin or in your nose but aren't sick, you are said to be "colonized" but not infected. Healthy people can be colonized and have no ill effects. However, they can pass the germ to others.

Staph bacteria are generally harmless unless they enter the body through a cut or other wound, and even then they often cause only minor skin problems in healthy people. However, staph infections can cause serious illness. This most often happens in older adults and people who have weakened immune systems, usually in hospitals and long term care facilities. But in the past several years, serious infections have been occurring in otherwise healthy people in the community, for example athletes who share equipment or personal items.

Treatments and drugs
Both hospital- and community-associated strains of MRSA still respond to certain medications. In hospitals and care facilities, doctors often rely on the antibiotic vancomycin to treat resistant germs. In the doctor’s office, dermatologists typically prescribe one or two antibiotics to treat the MRSA. In some cases, antibiotics may not be necessary. For example, doctors may drain a superficial abscess caused by MRSA rather than treat the infection with drugs.

What you can do to prevent MRSA in your community?
Protecting yourself from MRSA in your community — which might be just about anywhere — may seem daunting, but these common-sense precautions can help reduce your risk:

Wash your hands. Careful hand washing remains your best defense against germs. Scrub hands briskly for at least 15 seconds, then dry them with a disposable towel and use another towel to turn off the faucet. Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol for times when you don't have access to soap and water.

Keep personal items personal. Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, sheets, razors, clothing and athletic equipment. MRSA spreads on contaminated objects as well as through direct contact.

Keep wounds covered. Keep cuts and abrasions clean and covered with sterile, dry bandages until they heal. The pus from infected sores may contain MRSA, and keeping wounds covered will help keep the bacteria from spreading.

Shower after athletic games or practices. Shower immediately after each game or practice. Use soap and water. Don't share towels.

Sit out athletic games or practices if you have a concerning infection. If you have a wound that's draining or appears infected - for example, is red, swollen, warm to the touch or tender - consider sitting out athletic games or practices until the wound has healed.

Sanitize linens. If you have a cut or sore, wash towels and bed linens in a washing machine set to the "hot" water setting (with added bleach, if possible) and dry them in a hot dryer. Wash gym and athletic clothes after each wearing.

Use antibiotics appropriately. When you're prescribed an antibiotic, take all of the doses, even if the infection is getting better. Don't stop until your doctor tells you to stop. Don't share antibiotics with others or save unfinished antibiotics for another time. Inappropriate use of antibiotics, including not taking all of your prescription and overuse, contributes to resistance. If your infection isn't improving after a few days of taking an antibiotic, contact your doctor.

 

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