Staphylococcus aureus, or staph, is a bacterium found in the nose or on the skin of about 20–30% of people in the U.S. Staph bacteria are usually harmless, but they can sometimes cause serious infections. Most staph infections can be treated with antibiotics, but there are some strains that have developed antibiotic resistance.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is the name for the strains of staph bacteria that have become resistant to certain antibiotics that are usually used to treat staph infections. It is the most common drug-resistant infection found in hospital settings, and it is on the rise.
The two main types of MRSA include healthcare-associated MRSA (HA MRSA), which is found mainly in hospital patients and long-term care facility residents, and community-associated MRSA (CA MRSA), which is found in those who have not had contact with healthcare facilities.
Causes and Transmission
MRSA is spread by contact with an infected wound or items that have touched infected skin.
CA MRSA is spread in the community, most often in places that involve crowding, skin-to-skin contact, and shared equipment or supplies. Athletes and day care and school students are most at risk for community-associated MRSA.
HA MRSA is spread in healthcare facilities by contact with hands with MRSA on them (usually those of health care providers), an infected wound, or someone who carries MRSA but does not have signs of an infection. For information on other healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), visit our HAI home page.
MRSA can live on objects and surfaces including:
- Towels and clothing
- Training, weight room, and rehab equipment
- Uniforms, helmets, and pads
For information on cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) MRSA Cleaning and Disinfection page.
Factors that lead to an increased risk of getting CA MRSA include:
- Having repeated skin infections, cuts, or abrasions
- Living in crowded spaces (shelters, military barracks)
- Playing contact sports
- Having a history of being in prison
- Using injection drugs (using drugs through needles)
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of MRSA infections depend on the part of the body that is infected. MRSA is often confused with a spider bite. Most MRSA infections appear as a bump or infected area on the skin that may be:
- Warm to the touch
- Full of pus or other drainage
- Accompanied by a fever
It is impossible to tell by looking at the skin if the infection is caused by MRSA. Contact your doctor if you have a wound that is not getting better or is getting larger very fast, especially if you also have a fever.
Treatment of MRSA usually depends on how serious the infection is. Many infections can be treated by draining the abscesses or pimples. More serious infections may need antibiotic treatment. Only people who have symptoms of a MRSA infection should be treated.
Some antibiotics that may successfully treat MRSA include Bactrim, vancomycin, and daptomycin. Your doctor may use laboratory tests to decide which antibiotic will be most effective.
You can take these simple steps to reduce your risk of MRSA infection:
- Wash hands often and clean your body regularly, especially after exercise.
- Keep cuts, scrapes, and wounds clean and covered until healed.
- Do not share personal items, such as towels and razors.
- See your provider early if you think you might have a skin infection, especially if accompanied by a fever.
- Do not pick at or pop any skin sores.
- Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ): FAQ for patients and family members of patients with MRSA.
- Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) Fact Sheet, P-42073 (Multiple Languages): A fact sheet on MRSA with general disease information and precautions to take to prevent MRSA.
- Community-associated Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA MRSA) Fact Sheet, P-42185 (Multiple Languages): A fact sheet on CA MRSA with general disease information and prevention measures.
- Community-associated Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA MRSA) Patient Pamphlet, P-42170 (Multiple Languages): CA MRSA patient information and prevention tips.
Information for schools:
- Community-associated Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA MRSA) Guidelines for Controlling Transmission Among Students and Athletes, P-42179 (PDF): Recommendations such as hand and personal hygiene, screening athletes for skin infections, and protecting skin from injury to help reduce CA MRSA skin infections in school settings and among athletes.
- Community-associated Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA MRSA) Prevention and Control in Athletes (PPT): A PowerPoint® presentation to educate students, sports team members, coaches, school administrators, school nurses, and parents on the guidelines for preventing CA MRSA infections in schools and among sports team members.
- Guide for Prevention and Control of Antibiotic Resistant Organisms in Health Care Settings, P-42513 (PDF): A guide to help health care organizations implement comprehensive plans to manage patients, residents, and clients with antibiotic resistant organisms.
- Community-associated Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) Guidelines for Clinical Management and Control of Transmission, P-42160 (PDF): Discusses the epidemiology of community-associated MRSA and offers treatment guidance and infection control and prevention measures for both health care and community settings.
- Community-associated Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA MRSA) Patient Pamphlet, P-42170 (Multiple Languages): CA MRSA patient information and prevention tips. Health care providers and local public health agencies can use this pamphlet to provide patients with general CA MRSA information and prevention tips.
Questions about MRSA? Contact us.
Phone: 608-267-9003 | Fax: 608-261-4976