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What is antibiotic-resistant S. aureus?

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA, is a type of Staphylococcus aureus that is resistant to the antibiotic methicillin and other drugs in the same class, including penicillin, amoxicillin, and oxacillin. MRSA is one example of a so-called "superbug," an informal term used to describe a strain of bacteria that has become resistant to the antibiotics usually used to treat it. MRSA first appeared in patients in hospitals and other health facilities, especially among the elderly, the very sick, and those with an open wound (such as a bedsore) or catheter in the body. In these settings, MRSA is referred to as health-care-associated MRSA (HA-MRSA).

MRSA has since been found to cause illness in the community outside of hospitals and other health facilities and is known as community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) in this setting. MRSA in the community is associated with recent antibiotic use, sharing contaminated items, having active skin diseases or injuries, poor hygiene, and living in crowded settings. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 12% of MRSA infections are now community-associated, but this percentage can vary by community and patient population.

MRSA infections are usually mild superficial infections of the skin that can be treated successfully with proper skin care and antibiotics. MRSA, however, can be difficult to treat and can progress to life-threatening blood or bone infections because there are fewer effective antibiotics available for treatment.

The transmission of MRSA is largely from people with active MRSA skin infections. MRSA is almost always spread by direct physical contact and not through the air. Spread may also occur through indirect contact by touching objects (such as towels, sheets, wound dressings, clothes, workout areas, sports equipment) contaminated by the infected skin of a person with MRSA. Just as S. aureus can be carried on the skin or in the nose without causing any disease, MRSA can be carried in this way also. In contrast to the relatively high (25%-30%) percentage of adults who are colonized by S. aureus in the nose (these people have staph bacteria present that do not cause illness), only about 2% of healthy people carry MRSA in the nose. There are no symptoms associated with carrying staph in general or MRSA in the nose.

A drug known as mupirocin (Bactroban) has been shown to be sometimes effective for treating and eliminating MRSA from the nose of healthy carriers, but decolonization (treating of carriers to remove the bacteria) is usually not recommended unless there has been an outbreak of MRSA or evidence that an individual or group of people may be the source of the outbreak.

More recently, strains of S. aureus have been identified that are resistant to the antibiotic vancomycin (Vancocin), which is normally effective in treating staph infections. These bacteria are referred to as vancomycin-intermediate-resistance S. aureus (VISA) and vancomycin-resistant S. aureus (VRSA).

Return to Staph Infection (Staphylococcus Aureus)

See what others are saying

Comment from: Kk66, 45-54 Male (Patient) Published: May 20

I just found out today I have MRSA. I have a bad abscess on top of my buttock crack. I went to the doctor on Monday and they did a culture. They gave me two prescriptions. It is very painful and is draining constantly. I've been soaking in Epsom salt nightly. Hope it clears up soon. I am also take Enbrel for psoriasis and wonder if this attributed to my infection. I also work in healthcare facility and I am often around patients with MRSA.

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Comment from: d floyd, 55-64 Female (Caregiver) Published: March 10

My mother had knee replacement surgery and developed an MRSA staph infection as a result. They took the artificial knee out and replaced it with a (from what I understand) a cement block containing antibiotics. She also received intravenous antibiotics. After a horrible 6 weeks they gave her a new knee replacement and said she was ok. After that she suffered from confusion and wasn't able to maintain everyday function. A year later she got very sick, couldn't breathe or think straight. I took her to the emergency room and they put her in ICU and ended up with a tube in her throat. They never diagnosed her with ammonia but suggested it. They put her in a rehabilitation hospital. Two weeks later they called me at 6 am and told me she was dead. Since then, I have heard that many patients with severe MRSA die within a year or two of this condition. I was wondering if this is actually the case. They told me she was doing great, getting better every second and all of a sudden she was gone. I got no answers from the rehab center. They said if I wanted an autopsy I would have to pay for it. Just wondered if anyone else has been through or heard of anything like this.

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Comment from: d, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: May 23

I had a staph infection in my throat and got my tonsils out. The infection went to my hip when I was 16; that was in 1971. I was in the hospital and very sick with high fever and pain. They didn't clean out the joint, then I got another staph that went up my butt. Doctors cut it out. I always had nail infections and developed MRSA in my eye. I cut my toe on a wire and got it in my toe. I was unable to walk at age 40 and on a cane and in a wheel chair. I had severe neck and back pain. I had a hip replacement, neck surgery and back surgery. I had thumb surgery for arthritis. My body was twisted. I got severe vertigo. I went to a dermatologist who put me on doxycycline for something unrelated. My body became straight and my arthritis conditions improved. Most importantly I am able to walk without assistance. I am currently back on my exercise program. I am still in some pain but nothing like before.

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