Thanks to modern antibiotics, many infections are treated with relative ease with an injection or other form of these medications. But some germs have become resistant to these remedies and are harder to fight. MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, is one of these.
MRSA may cause skin infections that can appear as raised bumps or boils which are often red, swollen, painful or have pus or other drainage. These infections are often mistaken for spider bites. More advanced MRSA cases can include wounds that don’t heal, pneumonia and blood infections.
“MRSA infections, as with other types of staph, are usually spread by having contact with someone else’s skin infection or personal items like towels, bandages or razors that have touched infected skin,” said State Epidemiologist Tim Jones, MD. “These infections are likely to be spread in places where people are in close contact with others, such as schools and locker rooms where athletes might share razors or towels.”
MRSA does not go away with first-line antibiotics normally used to cure staph infections; it requires stronger antibiotics and some patients have severe conditions requiring hospitalization. While many believe healthcare institutions are the most common places for MRSA to spread, the infection can be found any place where there are people.
“While the development of antibiotic-resistant germs is always of concern, there are still effective ways to treat and prevent MRSA,” Jones said. “As school resumes and students get back to sports and other group activities, this is a good time to educate children about good hygiene and common-sense prevention measures. An additional benefit is that many of these measures will also help prevent colds and other common infections easily spread in a school setting.”
The best defense against MRSA is prevention. There are easy ways to decrease your risk of getting MRSA:
Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed.
Avoid contact with other people’s wounds or bandages.
Avoid sharing personal items such as towels or razors.
Shower immediately after activities that involve direct skin contact with others, and use a clean towel.
“When MRSA skin infections occur, surfaces that are likely to contact uncovered or poorly covered infections should be disinfected,” Jones said. “Cleaning surfaces with readily available detergent-based cleaners or Environmental Protection Agency-registered disinfectants is effective at removing MRSA from the environment. If you work out in a gym, we suggest carrying a towel with you to remove all sweat from equipment before you use it.”
When a doctor suspects an MRSA infection, he or she may order a sample of pus, blood, urine or sputum for testing. This is necessary to diagnose the type of infection and the appropriate course of antibiotics and other treatment required. In some cases, a patient may need to take an extended course of antibiotics to ensure the infection has been stopped.
Those who have had an MRSA infection at any time should tell any healthcare providers who treat them for any condition. There are ways to protect people that carry staph/MRSA from getting an infection or spreading it to others when they are in the hospital or have surgery.
“Healthy people can have staph in their noses or on their skin and it does not always cause disease,” Jones continued. “Even if surfaces have MRSA on them, this does not mean you’ll get an infection by touching those surfaces. MRSA is most likely to cause problems when you have a cut or scrape that is not covered. That’s why it’s important to use bandages.”
TDH has an online toolkit available to assist school officials and the general public in learning about and preventing MRSA. The toolkit is available at http://health.state.tn.us/MRSA/index.htm
For more information about MRSA, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website www.cdc.gov/mrsa/