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How Serious is MRSA?

John Po, MD  

John Po, MD, is an Infectious Disease physician on staff at Banner Estrella Medical Center. He can be reached at (623) 327-4144.

Question:  My doctor told me I have MRSA.  I know it is a bacteria, but can you give me any more information on what it is and how serious it is?

Answer:  Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA is a bacteria that causes skin infections.  MRSA infections are a growing problem. It is present in an increasing number of people in the community.

MRSA infections usually present as pimples, boils, abscesses, or even look like and feel like a spider bite. Usually the site is swollen, red, very painful and may have a black dot in it or some pus or other drainage.  In extreme cases, the bacteria may enter the blood stream, causing heart infections or even a potentially fatal form of pneumonia. Individuals who have a weakened immune system, the elderly, and people who have damaged their lungs by smoking or using drugs are at high risk of pneumonia. 

In addition to skin infections described, some patients may experience fever, chills, flu-like symptoms and some shortness of breath.  If these symptoms are present, see your doctor as soon as possible or go to the Emergency department immediately.

In the past we associated the MRSA infection with people who had been hospitalized or in some other type of health care facility where they had received a lot of antibiotics. Now we are finding more and more people coming in from the community with no obvious reason to have a weakened immune system.  That’s what we label it as a community-acquired MRSA infection.

Community-acquired MRSA infections can be caused by people who have a break in the skin coming in contact with the bacteria. Cleaning the environment is not enough with this bacteria. Good hygiene is very important in this case. This includes washing your hands frequently and avoiding sharing personal items such as towels, articles of clothing, razors, and even bars of soap. People who live or work in close contact without good hygiene are at higher risk of acquiring MRSA infections.

Typically penicillin types of antibiotics do not work on MRSA infections. However, there are still a number of antibiotics that can be used such as doxycycline, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole and in some cases, clindamycin. If an abscess is present, it may require drainage by a trained physician.

Page Last Modified: 02/22/2010
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