MRSA: Treatment, causes, and symptoms

MRSA, (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), is a form of contagious bacterial infection that is resistant to numerous antibiotics including methicillin, amoxicillin, penicillin, and oxacillin. This resistance makes it challenging to treat.

Often referred to as a superbug, MRSA infection may begin as a skin sore, pimple, or boil, before becoming serious, potentially harmful, and sometimes fatal.

Fast facts on MRSA

Here are some key facts about MRSA. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

MRSA is a form of bacterial infection that is resistant to numerous antibiotics.

Staphylococcus aureus” refers to a bacterium that commonly resides inside the nose and on human skin.

Around one in three people carry staph in their nose, usually without any illness. Two in 100 people carry MRSA.

The majority of invasive MRSA infections are contracted with healthcare settings.

Germ-killing soaps and ointments used in intensive care units have been found to significantly reduce MRSA cases.

MRSA: Meaning and definition

“Methicillin” is an antibiotic related to penicillin; it was once effective against staphylococci (staph), a type of bacteria. Staph bacteria have since developed a resistance to penicillin-related antibiotics, including methicillin – these resistant bacteria are called methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

MRSA bacteria
MRSA is a form of bacterial infection that is resistant to numerous antibiotics.

In the United States, staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infections, including:





wound infections

Staph bacteria can cause infections, and the resulting conditions range from mild to life threatening. These conditions include:

septicemia (blood poisoning)

pneumonia (lung infection)

osteomyelitis (bone infection)

endocarditis (heart valve infection)

urinary tract infection (e.g. bladder infection)

septic bursitis (small fluid-filled sacs under the skin)

Around 94,360 invasive MRSA infections are diagnosed annually in the U.S., with 18,650 associated deaths. MRSA infections are typically classified as healthcare-associated or community-associated; approximately 86 percent of all invasive MRSA infections are healthcare-associated.

MRSA bacteria have the aptitude to survive for extensive periods on surfaces and objects in hospitals including door handles, floors, sinks, taps, cleaning equipment and fabric.

One study to determine the survival of resistant staph on common hospital surfaces looked at staph survival on five materials commonly found in a hospital:

100 percent smooth cotton (clothing)

100 percent cotton terry (towels and wash cloths)

60 percent cotton, 40 percent polyester blend (scrub suits, lab coats and clothing)

100 percent polyester (privacy drapes, curtains, and clothing)

100 percent polypropylene plastic (splash aprons)

Swatches of fabric were injected with 10,000-100,000 colony-forming units (CFU) of the microorganism and observed daily. They found that S. aureus survived on the materials for the following number of days:

cotton – 4-21 days

terry – 2-14 days

polyester blend – 1-3 days

polyester – 1-40 days

polypropylene – 40-greater than 51

These results demonstrate the need for thorough contact control and meticulous disinfection procedures to limit spread of bacteria.

Healthcare-associated MRSA

MRSA frequently causes illness in people with a compromised immune system who interact with or reside in hospitals and healthcare facilities.

This is referred to as healthcare-associated MRSA (or hospital-acquired MRSA) and often occurs for one of the following reasons:

A break in the skin barrier – such as a surgical wound, burn, catheter, or intravenous line that allows bacteria to enter the body.

Older age – comorbidities or multiple complex health issues, and weakened immune systems due to a specific health condition, or the use of medications that lower immune function.

Large numbers of people – the simple fact that hospitals and healthcare facilities are visited by many different people provides an environment for bacteria to easily spread.

Those with a weakened immune system can include:

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