8 Things to Know About MRSA Infections

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Sarah Lewis, PharmD on September 5, 2020
  • MRSA bacteria
    What is MRSA?
    MRSA is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or Staph aureus. Staph bacteria are very common and most strains of Staph usually don’t cause problems. Many people normally have staph on their skin or in the nose. But MRSA is different. MRSA is a strain that has become resistant to the antibiotics doctors commonly prescribe to treat staph infections when they occur. This makes MRSA harder to kill than ordinary staph bacteria. Learning about MRSA will help you recognize a potentially serious infection and better yet, prevent MRSA infection in the first place.
  • Woman taking pill
    1. Incorrect use of antibiotics leads to resistance.
    Antibiotics target processes of building or replicating that are specific to bacterial cells. Bacteria become resistant when changes (mutations) occur in bacterial DNA that allow the bacteria to multiply even in the presence of the antibiotic. Resistance is more likely to occur when antibiotics are used incorrectly. For example, using antibiotics to treat viruses, such as colds or flu, can lead to resistance. Resistance can also develop if you don’t finish the entire course of antibiotics when you need them.
  • man-and-woman-facing-each-other-at-spa
    2. Is MRSA contagious? The answer is yes.
    How do you get MRSA? MRSA used to mainly affect people in the hospital or long-term care facilities. But now, there is also a community-associated form of MRSA (CA-MRSA). It usually presents as a skin infection. It spreads through skin-to-skin contact or by sharing personal items, such as towels. People can also become carriers of MRSA. They don’t have an active infection, but MRSA lives in their nose or on their skin. Carriers can spread MRSA to others in the same way. About 2% of people are MRSA carriers.
  • teens talking at locker
    3. People in close contact with others are at highest risk.
    Because of the way CA-MRSA spreads, it is most likely to cause problems when people are in close contact with each other. This includes living in crowded or close conditions, such as camps, college dorms, jails, or military barracks. Day care centers and schools can also provide enough close contact to spread MRSA. Athletes who have skin-to-skin contact or share equipment are at risk as well. Wrestling is the classic example.
  • person scratching skin on arm
    4. MRSA usually starts in the skin.
    Like other staph infections, MRSA typically begins as a skin infection. It may look like a bump, pimple, or spider bite. It’s common for the infection to develop near a cut, wound, or open sore. However, MRSA can start on intact skin as well. Other MRSA symptoms include redness, warmth, pain, and swelling of the area. It may also drain pus or other fluid and cause a fever.
  • Doctor and patient
    5. MRSA can become a serious infection.
    Don’t ignore signs of a skin infection, especially if you are at risk for MRSA. Complications of MRSA can develop quickly. The initial MRSA skin infection can become an abscess that can affect deep tissues. MRSA can also enter the bloodstream and cause serious infections throughout the body. This includes infections of the blood, bones, joints, heart and lungs. These infections are potentially life-threatening complications.
  • Looking into microscope
    6. You can’t tell if it’s MRSA without a lab test.
    Doctors need to test fluid or cells from a skin infection to know if it’s MRSA or not. Neither you nor the doctor can tell just by looking at it. If you have symptoms of a skin infection, see your doctor promptly. In the meantime, don’t try to open the skin or drain the sore. Keep the area clean and cover it with a clean, dry bandage until you see the doctor. Seeking early treatment will lead to a better outcome and prevent the infection from becoming dangerous.
  • Nurse drains pus abscess
    7. Treating MRSA does not always involve antibiotics.
    The main MRSA treatment for mild to moderate skin infections is surgical drainage. It involves making an incision, draining the pus, and cleaning the wound. In some cases, doctors may also use antibiotics to treat CA-MRSA. There are certain classes of antibiotics that are still effective against MRSA. Never try to drain a skin infection yourself. Doctors use sterile techniques to ensure the wound is clean. Attempting to drain it yourself can lead to serious complications.
  • washing-hands-with-soap-and-water
    8. You can take action to prevent MRSA.
    Preventing CA-MRSA means focusing on hygiene. Wash your hands often, for about 20 seconds each time. Hand sanitizer will do in a pinch. Wash your body too, especially after games or practices. Keep cuts, wounds, scrapes, and open sores clean and covered with a clean, dry bandage. Don’t share personal items, such as towels, razors, uniforms, or clothing that touches the skin. Clean sports equipment before using. If you have to share equipment, use a towel or clothing to protect your skin. Lastly, wash athletic clothes after every use. And use hot water to clean sheets and towels.
What Is MRSA & Is It Contagious? | MRSA Infection Symptoms & Treatment

About The Author

Sarah Lewis is a pharmacist and a medical writer with over 25 years of experience in various areas of pharmacy practice. Sarah holds a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy degree from West Virginia University and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She completed Pharmacy Practice Residency training at the University of Pittsburgh/VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. 
  1. General Information About MRSA in the Community. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/mrsa/community/index.htmlhttps://www.cdc.gov/mrsa/community/index.html
  2. MRSA. Nemours Foundation. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/mrsa.html
  3. MRSA. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/mrsa.html
  4. MRSA Infection. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mrsa/symptoms-causes/syc-20375336
  5. Treatment, Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. https://www.niaid.nih.gov/research/mrsa-treatment
Was this helpful?
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 5
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.