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MRSA Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus: Frequently Asked Questions

 Frequently Asked Questions

It depends on whether you are simply colonized or have an active infection. Being colonized with MRSA means you carry it in your nose or on your skin but you are not sick with a MRSA infection. If you have signs and symptoms of a MRSA infection (boil, abscess, pain, swelling) you are much more likely to spread MRSA because the infected area contains many MRSA germs. That is why it is important to keep the area of the wound covered and to wash your hands after touching the wound.

Staph infections, including MRSA infections, may appear as boils or abscesses, with pus or drainage present. Sometimes they may look like "spider bites." There may be redness, swelling, pain, or warmth at the site of the infection. You may also have a fever. Contact your health care provider if you have a wound that is not getting better or is rapidly getting larger.

Gowns and gloves are worn in the hospital to prevent the spread of MRSA to other patients from contaminated hands and clothing of health care workers. This is especially important because sick people are at higher risk of infection from MRSA.

At home, these are the ways you can help prevent spread of MRSA to your family members:

  • Wash your hands often with warm soapy water or use alcohol gel
  • When soap and water are not available shower after exercising or participating in sports
  • Protect skin to avoid cuts, tears, and abrasions
  • Cover cuts, tears, and sores on the skin with clean, dry dressings or bandages
  • Do not share personal items such as razors, towels, or clothing
  • Do not touch other people's skin infections
  • Routinely clean surfaces that have frequent contact with skin (chairs, toilet seats, doorknobs, keyboards, telephones, etc.)
  • Stay home if you have draining infections that need dressing changes during work or school hours

Being colonized with MRSA means that you carry it on your skin or in your nose but you have no signs or symptoms of infection. There is a small risk of transmitting MRSA to close contacts such as your spouse when you are colonized, but the risk is much less than when there is an active infection, with pus or drainage present on the skin.

Simple measures such as good hand washing, bathing or showering regularly, and covering skin wounds will help reduce the risk of transmission to close contacts.

Yes, you may hold your grandchildren, because the risk of transmitting MRSA to them is small. It is possible to spread MRSA by touching your nose and then touching someone else. Washing your hands with soap and water or alcohol gel after touching your nose and before touching others will help to prevent the spread of MRSA to others.

In most cases testing of household members is not necessary. Sometimes the family doctor may wish to screen all household members for MRSA colonization. This may be done when there are recurrent infections in one or more household members.

If testing is needed, the doctor will rub the inside of the nose with a cotton swab and then send it to the laboratory for a culture. If MRSA is found, your doctor may give you an antibiotic ointment to be put inside the nose to kill the MRSA.

Sometimes family pets (dogs and cats) will also carry MRSA, so if testing of household members is done, pets should be included in the screening process.

Even if treated, family members may become re-colonized in the future, but treatment may still be effective in breaking the cycle of recurrent infections.

If someone in your household has a MRSA infection with wound drainage that cannot be contained with a bandage or dressing, it is important to clean and disinfect surfaces and items that have come in contact with the wound drainage as soon as possible after contamination has occurred. How often you clean depends on how often contamination may occur. Washing hands often and keeping the wound covered with bandages or dressing or placing a cloth barrier between the wound and surfaces will help keep the environment from becoming contaminated.

If wound drainage can be contained, or if a household member is only colonized with MRSA, then household surfaces and items are much less likely to become contaminated. In these situations, you can follow your usual cleaning schedule.

Surfaces such as floors and walls are not usually involved in MRSA transmission and do not require special cleaning procedures.

Yes. Cleaning is a process by which dirt, soil, organic material, and germs are removed by washing with a cleaner or detergent to lift the dirt and germs off surfaces and items and then rinsing them away with clean water. Cleaning will remove many household germs if done properly and is usually all that is needed to help prevent spread of infections among household members.

If a household member has a MRSA infection, it may be helpful to use a disinfectant on potentially contaminated surfaces and items in addition to cleaning. Disinfectants are products that kill germs or prevent them from growing.

It is important to use disinfectants properly to make sure they work well. Follow all of the manufacturer's instructions on the label. Pay special attention to the contact time, which is the amount of time the product must remain on the surface or item to be effective. Use a disinfectant that is EPA registered and that lists "staph" as one of the germs that it will kill.

You do not have to clean everything you touch, nor do you need to use a separate phone. Instead you should focus on washing your hands often, bathing or showering regularly, and keeping any skin cuts or wounds covered with a clean, dry bandage or dressing.

Waste items may be thrown into the regular trash. If these items are heavily saturated with wound drainage or other body fluids, place in a plastic bag and seal, then throw into regular trash. Be sure to wash your hands well with soap and water or alcohol gel after handling these items.

Persons who only carry MRSA in the nose or on their skin but who do not have signs or symptoms of infection are able to be at work, school, and other community settings. Those with active MRSA skin infections may also be at work or in school IF:

  • the infection can be covered with a bandage or dressing.
  • all wound drainage can be contained throughout the day without having to change the dressing or bandage at work or school.
  • if the infected person is willing and able to follow good hand and personal hygiene.

Until skin infections are healed:

  • do not use whirlpools or swimming pools.
  • do not participate in contact sports or other physical activity in which bandages or dressings may fall off.

Living in an assisted living facility, a nursing home, or other group setting is much like living in a household, with people participating in community activities and being in close contact with one another. Thus the ways to prevent MRSA from spreading in these settings are much like those in households.

Residents should practice good hand hygiene habits. They should be encouraged to wash hands or use the alcohol gel before dining with others and before participating in community activities.
Staff should also practice good hand hygiene according to CDC guidelines for hand hygiene in health care settings (PDF, 495 KB).

Residents unable to contain wound drainage or other body fluids should have limited movement outside of their rooms until drainage and fluids are able to be contained, regardless of whether they have MRSA.

High-touch surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected routinely.
Residents' skin should be kept clean, healthy, and intact.

The normal laundry process reduces the number of germs found on clothing, towels, and sheets, so if there is no visible soiling of these items used by someone with a MRSA infection, you may follow your normal laundry process.

If clothing, towels, and sheets used by persons with MRSA infections are heavily soiled with blood, wound drainage, or other body fluids, they should be washed separately from other household members' laundry. Wash in hot water and detergent or warm water and bleach, if possible. Using the hot setting on the dryer is also helpful. Make sure items are completely dry before using.

Any pus or fluid will be drained. Antibiotics are not always needed for MRSA infections. Your provider will decide whether you need them. If you are given antibiotics, take them exactly as your provider has instructed.

Be sure to let your provider know if your infection does not get better in a day or two after being treated.

Last revised March 14, 2023