Is MRSA Contagious?

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

MRSA Symptoms and Signs

Most MRSA infections are skin infections that produce the following signs and symptoms:

  • Cellulitis (infection of the skin or the fat and tissues that lie immediately beneath the skin, usually starting as small red bumps in the skin with some areas resembling a bruise)
  • Boils (pus-filled infections of hair follicles)...

What is MRSA?

MRSA is the short form of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and refers to strains of gram-positive coccal-shaped (round) bacteria that are resistant to several antibiotics. MRSA causes mainly skin infections in nonhospitalized people; in hospitalized patients, it can cause sepsis, surgical site infections, and pneumonia. All of these infections may be difficult to treat because of MRSA's resistance to antibiotics.

Is MRSA contagious?

MRSA is very contagious under certain circumstances (when skin alterations or damage are present); spread occurs through person-to-person contact with a skin infection or even indirect contact, such as contact with a MRSA-infected person's clothing or towels or even from benches in gyms. All MRSA needs to establish itself is a small break in the skin or mucosa. This is important because no breaks means no infection; for example, MRSA skin-infected or MRSA-colonized pregnant females seldom infect their fetus or infants. However, many activities such as kissing, saliva exchange, and sexual contact, although somewhat less likely to transfer MRSA to another, can cause infection if the skin or mucosa is damaged. Hospitalized patients, if they have MRSA pneumonia, may transfer the organisms to others through the air by contaminated droplets. Bodies of people who die from MRSA infections often have viable MRSA on their surfaces, and these organisms can infect other people. The incubation period for MRSA ranges from one to 10 days.

What is the incubation period for MRSA?

For most staph infections, including MRSA, the incubation period is often indefinite if the organisms are colonizing (not infecting) an individual (see above). However, the incubation period for MRSA often ranges from one to 10 days if it enters broken skin or damaged mucous membranes.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/23/2016

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