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Is MRSA like the flu?

Dr. Sandy Gladding

 

 

Sandy Gladding, MD, practices general surgery at Banner Estrella Medical Center.

Question: A friend of mine recently required hospitalization for pneumonia caused by a bacteria called MRSA. What is MRSA and what can I do to protect my family?

Answer: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a strain of staph bacteria that has become resistant to several types of antibiotics, including all types of penicillin. Staphylococci or “staph” are bacteria that live on the skin and in the nose that usually do not cause any harm.

MRSA can live on the skin surface, in the nose, and also in the lungs and urine, and can cause infections such as skin boils, wound infections, or pneumonia. MRSA can also make people very sick, especially the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.

Minor MRSA infections can sometimes develop serious complications such as spread of infection to surrounding tissues, abscesses, or blood, bone, or heart infections.

Since MRSA is resistant to many antibiotics, it can be hard to treat. However, there are some antibiotics that can successfully cure MRSA infections. If an antibiotic is prescribed, it is important that all doses be taken, even if the infection is getting better. The last few pills kill the toughest germs. It’s also important to let your doctor know if the infection does not get better in a few days or symptoms worsen.

MRSA cases have historically emanated from hospitals, though community-acquired forms are becoming more common, even in healthy adults. Professional athletes, for example, have developed MRSA infections from exposure in gymnasiums and locker rooms.

This past summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert warning of an MRSA outbreak in three states caused by 12 unlicensed tattooists that were using poor equipment sterilization procedures.

Community acquired MRSA skin infections are typically quite painful, will often recur if untreated and progress to multiple lesions.  Community acquired MRSA pneumonia tends to progress rapidly instead of waxing and waning like the typical cold.  Persons who have had the flu and are in a generally weakened state following the flu are going to be more susceptible to “staph” pneumonia and therefore to MRSA pneumonia also. 

The best way to prevent MRSA is to wash your hands often with soap and water. If you don’t have access to soap and water, you can kill the MRSA or Staph germs by using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 70 percent alcohol.  It is also important to finish any antibiotic that you start and that you understand that antibiotics do not treat viral illnesses and should be reserved for bacterial infections. 

You also must think about where MRSA bacteria are on your body. If you have a skin wound, for example, you should keep the area covered with dry bandages and clothing, if possible. Change the bandage often, especially if the bandage gets wet. After you touch your wound site or dress your wound, wash your hands immediately with soap and water. Additionally, if you have an open skin lesion, do not share towels or clothing that touches the skin in the area of the lesion.

If you or a family member is diagnosed with MRSA, it is important to cleanse commonly shared surfaces with a dilute bleach solution or Lysol and to wash shared linens with bleach.  I also recommend that if you become ill and a family member has had MRSA you inform your physician that you have been in close contact with someone with MRSA. 

Page Last Modified: 02/22/2010
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