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  1. Holcomb, Susan Simmons ARNP, BC, PhD

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What's MRSA?

MRSA stands for methicillin-resistantStaphylococcus aureus.Staphylococcus aureus, also called staph, is a type of bacteria that lives on your skin and in your nose. Most of the time, it doesn't cause serious problems. If you have a staph infection, your health care provider would normally treat you with a drug called methicillin. Staph that can't be killed by this drug is called methicillin-resistant staph-MRSA for short.


Community-associated MRSA (also called CA-MRSA) is the focus of this handout. It's mainly a result of the misuse and overuse of antibiotics-for example, using antibiotics to treat viruses that cause colds and the flu. Antibiotics can't kill viruses. CA-MRSA commonly causes painful skin sores or boils in otherwise healthy people. When a patient in the hospital gets a MRSA infection, it may be harder to treat and more likely to lead to serious problems such as pneumonia, wound infections, and blood infections.


Who's at risk?

Anyone can get a MRSA infection, but you're more likely to get it if you:


* have been in the hospital recently


* are very old or very young


* have skin-to-skin contact with someone who has MRSA


* have a serious disease that makes it hard for your body to fight infection


* are living in a crowded situation, such as a college dorm or military barracks


* work in health care.



How do I get a MRSA infection?

You may have MRSA bacteria in your body and not know it. If so, any small cut in the skin may become infected with MRSA from your own skin or nose.


The infection usually starts as a small, raised red bump that's tender to the touch. If it's not treated, it will become larger and more painful and turn a deeper color. It may feel warm and contain pus, and you may feel feverish and tired and have body aches and swollen glands in your neck.


Contact your health care provider right away if you have symptoms like this. Don't pick at the sore, or you may spread the infection.


How do I know I have MRSA?

To find out if you have MRSA, your health care provider will take a sample of discharge from the sore or the inside of your nose for testing. Then he'll treat the sore by draining it of pus and starting you on an antibiotic. He may apply an antibiotic cream and a bandage on the sore.


Follow your health care provider's directions for cleaning and caring for the sore. Take all of the antibiotic exactly as directed, even after you feel better. Depending on the test results, the health care provider may change your antibiotic.


How do I protect others from the MRSA infection?

You can go to work or school if the sore is bandaged, you take your medications as prescribed, and you practice good hygiene. To prevent spreading MRSA to other parts of your body or to other people, follow these rules.


* Don't touch the sore with your bare hands. Wear gloves when changing the bandage and throw away the used bandage right away. Put it in a trash bag where no one else can touch it. Dispose of your gloves the same way. Wash your hands after you remove the gloves.


* Wash your hands often throughout the day with soap and water. Rub your hands for 15 to 30 seconds each time (or as long as it takes you to sing Happy Birthday). Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water aren't available.


* Shower daily using an antibacterial soap if advised by your health care provider.


* Wash your clothing, bedding, and towels separately from those of other family members. Use warm or hot water, bleach if possible, and a warm or hot setting on the clothes dryer.


* Wash gym and exercise clothes after each use.


* Don't share personal items (towels, makeup, razors).


* Keep any other sores, cuts, and scrapes clean and covered with bandages.


* Don't touch other people's cuts or bandages.


* Avoid contact sports or similar activities until your skin infection is healed.