MRSA Infections

Understand and Prevent Staphylococcus Aureus and MRSA Infections

Surgeon scrubbing up before operation
Washing is the best way to avoid MRSA. MedicImage / Getty Images

MRSA bacteria are everywhere. Literally. To find proof, just read the papers and watch TV news. Teachers swab the classroom with modified baby wipes because of the potential for MRSA infections. Products advertise their ability to kill MRSA and prevent infection. Hospital staff make huge notes on patients' charts when MRSA infections are present. Stickers and bands declare MRSA infection status for all (healthcare providers) to see.

Location, Location, Location

MRSA infections that happen in the hospital are known as healthcare associated MRSA (HA-MRSA), while infections that come from everywhere else are known as community associated MRSA (CA-MRSA). The only difference is location; the bug is the same.

The Family Staph

Staph infections come from a bacteria normally found in and on more than a quarter of healthy Americans. The bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus -- but "staph" is so much easier to say) will sometimes cause infections. Pimples and boils are the most common results of staph infections. Staph infections usually clear up with antibiotics -- sometimes even with weak antibacterials found in skin care products and soap. Once in a while, staph infections can become serious or even deadly. Infections in surgical wounds, the bloodstream, and the lungs are particularly nasty.

MRSA infections are staph infections resistant to some of the more common antibiotics -- especially those ending in cillin (methicillin, amoxicillin, penicillin, etc).

It's in the name; MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Some folks call it merr-suh; some call it em-are-ess-ay.

MRSA Infection: The Robo-Staph

MRSA is like staph on steroids. Super-Staph, so to speak. It's not as common as the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. While more than 25% of the population have staph bacteria growing on them, only about 1% have MRSA.

MRSA are the bugs we couldn't kill -- they found each other, dated, fell in love and settled down to raise new Super-Staph babies that don't really care too much about words ending in cillin.

Why We Care

Staph infections, including MRSA infections, are the most common cause of skin infection in the US. Most of the time staph infections look like a pimple or a boil. Sometimes they will have pus drainage. Probably the most common description of staph infection on the skin is that it looks like a spider bite.

All forms of staph bacteria like crowds. Hospitals, nursing homes, hostels and military barracks are known for staph outbreaks -- non-hospital outbreaks are sometimes blamed on spiders.

The dirtier the environment, the more likely a typical staph infection will occur. MRSA, on the other hand, isn't spread by a dirty environment as much as physical contact -- such as moving from patient to patient in a hospital.

Avoid Staph

The best way to beat staph is to avoid it. Be clean and be stingy with everything but information, which you should share:

  • Wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Cover open wounds (cuts, scrapes, anything that bled or oozed pus) with a bandage until healed.
  • Throw bandages and tape away with regular trash.
  • Use gloves if you must touch other people’s wounds or bandages, and wash your hands afterward.
  • Don't share personal items (towels, deodorant or razors).
  • Keep the house clean by wiping down surfaces with soap and water, and by washing clothes and bedding -- especially if used by someone with a staph infection -- with water and detergent.
  • Dry everything thoroughly.
  • Tell every healthcare provider (paramedic, nurse, doctor, etc.) who treats you if you or a family member has a staph infection. It allows them to protect you, other patients and themselves from additional infections.

If you think you may have a staph infection, call your doctor. It's not necessary to call 911, but don't put off calling your doctor.

To prevent MRSA or a similar bug from getting stronger, it's really important to take medications as directed. Antibiotics are usually given for a few days or a few weeks. It can be tempting to stop taking antibiotics once you feel better. However, if you don't finish the whole prescription you run the risk of letting some of the bacteria live long enough to breed new, stronger bugs.

Staph infections are common; MRSA infections are not. Keep clean, avoid wounds, take your medicine and see your doctor when necessary -- all good advice for staying healthy.

Source:

"Community-Associated MRSA Information for the Public." 30 Jun 2008. CDC.gov. CDC. 14 Oct 2008

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