The Threat of (MRSA) Superbugs

An Overview of MRSA Infections

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Infections from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as the MRSA superbug, have been increasing over the past decade. Keep reading to learn more about MRSA and why it's a problem.

What Is MRSA?

MRSA is a type of Staph aureus bacteria that has evolved to become resistant to common antibiotics such as methicillin, oxacillin, penicillin, and amoxicillin.

Staphylococci are one of the most common causes of skin infections, but can cause serious infections, including pneumonia and bloodstream infections.

Strains of Staph aureus that are resistant to multiple antibiotics, also called superbugs, represent a growing public health problem because treatment options are often limited and less effective.

Why Is MRSA a Problem?

Serious MRSA infections can lead to bloodstream infections, skin infectious (cellulitis or abscesses), heart infections, pneumonia, and toxic shock syndrome. Failure to treat MRSA can result in organ failure and death.

People with MRSA often require treatment with medicines that are more toxic and expensive, but less effective. These individuals are also more likely to have longer and more expensive hospital stays, increasing the burden on the healthcare system.

Types of MRSA Infections

  1. Healthcare-associated MRSA (HA-MRSA) infections occur frequently in people who have been hospitalized or had surgery within the past year. Infections may occur following invasive surgical procedures or use of medical devices, such as catheters. HA-MRSA infections also occur frequently in people who have weakened immune systems, such as those residing in nursing homes and dialysis centers.
  1. Community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) occurs in healthy people who have not been recently hospitalized or had recent medical procedures. These infections, which usually affect the skin, have been associated with athletes who share personal items and sports equipment, as well as among children in daycare facilities. Other people at risk include those in the military, people who get tattoos, IV drug use, and men who have sex with men.

    What Are the Symptoms of MRSA?

    Symptoms depend on where the infection has begun.

    HA-MRSA infections may include surgical wound infections, urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections, pneumonia, bone infections, and infections of the lining of the heart (endocarditis).  It can also include infections of the skin or of sites where there were IV's.

    CA-MRSA usually manifests itself as a skin infection that appears as a red, swollen, painful area on the skin. It can also take on the form of an abscess, boil, or pus-filled lesion, and may be accompanied by fever and warmth around the infected area.

    Some infections can also be the result of injections, sometimes due to IV drug use, like heroin (but also from needed medications).

    More serious infections have symptoms such as chest pain, chills, fatigue, headache, muscle aches, and rash.

    How Do You Get MRSA?

    Healthcare-associated MRSA is associated with contact with the medical environment. CA-MRSA, on the other hand, is not necessarily contracted this way.

    It can be spread through skin-to-skin contact, skin wounds (cuts, scrapes), crowded living conditions, and poor hygiene.

    Although the gym or schools may be sources of MRSA, your chances of getting MRSA can be limited by practicing good hygiene, including disinfecting and covering wounds. Contact sports like American football or wrestling may result in more infections. Make sure you shower and keep clean.

    Tips for Preventing MRSA Infection

    There are some steps you can take to reduce your risk of MRSA:

    • Wash your hands with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Clean and cover cuts and scrapes, where the bacteria may enter and establish infection, and stay away from other people’s wounds or bandages to avoid contamination.
    • Wipe athletic equipment clean before and after use. Put a towel between your skin and the athletic equipment.
    • Don’t share personal items, including towels and razors, where the bacteria may be present.
    • Avoid sharing whirlpools or saunas with individuals who have open sores, and make sure bathing facilities are clean.
    • At doctors’ visits, make sure all healthcare providers (doctors, nurses, technicians who draw blood, etc.) wash their hands before examining you.

    What Is the Treatment for MRSA?

    Some Staph skin infections can be treated by drainage of the sore, but this procedure should only be done by a healthcare provider. Oftentimes treatment is by antibiotics taken daily (or twice daily) by mouth. Sometimes these antibiotics need to be by an IV.

    Most MRSA infections are treatable with antibiotics, but it is very important to complete the entire course of treatment, even if the infection appears to be getting better. Failure to follow doctor’s orders can result in complications and failure to wipe out the infection.

    For more serious infections that require hospitalization, treatment may include kidney dialysis, intravenous fluids and medications, and oxygen. These complications may be the result of a dangerous condition called sepsis.

    I Think I Have MRSA. What Should I Do?

    If you have a wound that seems to be getting worse, or if you have any other symptoms of a Staph infection, call your healthcare provider. You can also take steps to limit the infections spread among members of your household.

    Sources

    Community-Associated MRSA Information for the Public. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Healthcare-Associated Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (HA-MRSA). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    MRSA. Medical Encyclopedia. MedlinePlus. US National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Health.

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