MRSA Symptoms

Basics of MRSA Infection and Symptoms

doctor examining little girl's skin on elbow
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Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of bacteria that can cause skin infections. It is resistant to treatment with the antibiotic commonly used for staph infections. MRSA infections are being seen with increasing frequency in healthy adults and children.

How Can Your Child Get MRSA?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that two in 100 people carry MRSA bacteria in their noses.

This doesn't usually cause them any symptoms or problems, as all of us have some strain of staph in our noses. The bacteria can be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact or by touching items other people have used, including sports equipment. Your child may be exposed to MRSA at school, day care or on the playground.

MRSA Infections

While MRSA may not cause an infection to the people who carry it, at times, it can cause skin infections. MRSA gets its name from being resistant to the antibiotics that would commonly be used to treat the infection, which makes it more difficult to treat than common staph infections. While MRSA infections are sometimes limited to simple pimple-like infections, they can often become a much larger abscess and boil that needs to be drained.

Unfortunately, MRSA infections can also lead to much more serious infections, including infections of the bloodstream (bacteremia and sepsis), bone infections, and pneumonia.

 Since MRSA infections can be so serious and are sometimes deadly, it is important to learn to recognize the symptoms of an MRSA infection so that you can get your child early treatment.

MRSA Symptoms

Like many other skin infections, MRSA symptoms typically include an area on the skin that comes up quickly and is:

  • red
  • swollen
  • painful
  • draining or is full of pus
  • not getting better with typical antibiotic treatments for routine skin infections

Another classic sign of an MRSA infection is that people will describe the area as looking like a spider bite. In fact, many people mistake MRSA infections for spider bites.

Other symptoms, such as fever, difficulty breathing, chills, or chest pain, would typically be signs of a more serious MRSA infection that has spread beyond your child's skin and to his blood, lungs, or another part of his body. This would usually require immediate medical attention.

MRSA vs. Routine Staph

Even with classic MRSA symptoms, it is important to keep in mind that your child's skin infection could still be caused by the regular Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. The only way to tell is for your doctor to do a culture on the drainage from the site of the infection. This can be helpful in case your child's infection doesn't get better, he keeps getting skin infections over and over, or if other family members get a skin infection too.

Since it can take several days to get the results from an MRSA culture, your pediatrician will likely treat your child with an antibiotic that works against MRSA if he suspects this resistant bacteria. These antibiotics most commonly include Bactrim (trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole) and Cleocin (clindamycin) or Vancocin (vancomycin) if your child has a more serious infection and IV medication is required.


Long: Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 2nd ed.

Behrman: Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 17th ed.

General Information About MRSA in the Community, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, updated March 24, 2016.

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