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MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)

What is Staphylococcus aureus (Staph)?

  • Staphylococcus aureus, often referred to simply as “Staph,” are bacteria commonly carried on the skin or in the nose of healthy people.
  • Approximately 25% to 30% of the population is colonized (when bacteria are present, but not causing an infection) in the nose with Staph bacteria.
  • But a Staph infection can happen when the germ enters the body through broken skin such as a cut, scrape, or rash.
  • Staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infections in the United States. Most of these skin infections are minor (e.g., pimples, impetigo, boils) and may not even have to be treated with antibiotics.

For photo of a boil, click on Boil photo.
For several photos of impetigo, click on Impetigo photos.

  • However, Staph bacteria also can cause serious infections (e.g., bloodstream infections and pneumonia).

What is MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)?

  • Some Staph bacteria are resistant, or immune, to the often-used antibiotics.
  • MRSA is a type of Staph that is resistant to antibiotics such as methicillin, penicillin and amoxicillin.
  • This resistance is a result of the overuse and misuse of antibiotics, especially in children.

Who is at risk of getting Staph or MRSA infections?

  • Staph infections, including MRSA, occur most frequently among persons in hospitals and healthcare facilities who have weakened immune systems.
  • Staph and MRSA can also cause illness in persons outside of hospitals and healthcare facilities.
    MRSA infections that are acquired by persons who have not been recently hospitalized or had a medical procedure (e.g., surgery) are known as Community-aquired MRSA (CA-MRSA) infections.

What do Staph and MRSA skin infections look like?

  • Staph infections, including those caused by MRSA, usually begin as red bumps resembling boils or pimples. The bumps often become swollen, painful, and filled with pus (abscess) (see photo called MRSA).

How can MRSA be treated?

  • Most Staph skin infections are often minor and can be treated by regularly washing and bandaging the area and/or using oral antibiotics or antibiotic ointments.
  • Sometimes the abscesses from Staph need to be drained by a doctor.
  • MRSA can’t be treated with antibiotics that are routinely given, such as methicillin, penicillin, and amoxicillin.
  • Doctors now have turn to other medications to try to treat MRSA.

How can Staph or MRSA skin infections be prevented?

Practice good hygiene:

  1. Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  2. Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed.
  3. Avoid contact with other people’s wounds or bandages.
  4. Avoid sharing personal items such as towels or razors.
  • To prevent the continued spread of MRSA and other resistant bacteria, antibiotics should not be given to your child unless truly necessary; not for an infection like the cold or flu.

When should I contact my pediatrician concerning a possible Staph or MRSA skin infection in my child?

  • Contact your pediatrician if your child has an area of skin that’s red, painful, swollen, and/or filled with pus whether your child has fever or not.
  • If skin infections seem to be passing from one family member to another or if two or more family members have skin infections at the same time.
  • If your child has a skin infection that isn’t responding as it should to usual treatments, then you should suspect that your child has an MRSA infection and call your doctor.