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Staphylococcus aureus, often called “staph”, is a common type of bacteria that can be found in the nose and on the skin of about one out of every three people. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also called MRSA, are staph that are not killed by many of the antibiotics doctors used to prescribe most commonly for staph infections.
Until the mid-1990s, MRSA mainly affected patients in hospitals and other healthcare settings. Since that time, a new strain of MRSA has emerged. This new strain is called community-associated MRSA, and has rapidly become one of the most common causes of skin and soft tissue infections among otherwise healthy people in the community.
Many people carry MRSA on their skin, and most will never get sick from it. Skin infections occur when the bacteria get in through small scrapes or cuts, sometimes too small to notice. The infected area usually begins with a red bump that resembles a pimple or insect bite. If untreated, the lesion may become hard and painful or may drain pus (often called a “boil” or a skin abscess).
MRSA is most often spread through direct physical contact with an infected person. Draining lesions are highly infectious and represent an important source of spread. MRSA can also be spread by touching objects that have been soiled with drainage from an infected wound such as bandages, towels, or athletic equipment, although this is less common than direct person-to-person spread.
Outbreaks of MRSA have occurred in households, on sports teams, in prisons, in daycare centers, and in other settings where people have close contact or share equipment and personal items.
Unlike hospital-associated MRSA, most community-associated MRSA infections can be treated with several types of antibiotics, including some that can be taken by mouth.
Not all MRSA skin infections require antibiotics; treatment decisions should be made by a doctor or other licensed healthcare provider. Occasionally, community-associated MRSA can cause blood stream infections, joint infections, pneumonia, or other severe infections in an otherwise well person.