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What is MRSA? Five Things You Need to Know

Pro football players, college wrestlers and active-duty military are some of the strongest, most physically fit people in the world, yet even they’re not immune to a superbug called Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. It’s one of the toughest to treat, and no one—not even Hercules himself—is immune.

Read on to learn more about MRSA symptoms, treatment and how to protect yourself and your family.

What is MRSA?

MRSA is a type of bacteria, or germ, that can cause an infection that is hard to cure,” said Brandie Beuthin, RN, infection prevention regional director at Banner Health in Arizona. “We all have germs on our skin that don’t harm us until we get a break in our skin and then those germs can cause an infection.”

One of the germs that live on skin is called Staphylococcus aureus or Staph. Some Staph germs are very smart and have figured out how to avoid being killed by certain antibiotics like methicillin and penicillin.

MRSA sounds like a scary superbug, but with a proper understanding of the bacteria and simple prevention strategies, you can reduce your risk. Here are five important things to know about MRSA.

Anyone can get MRSA, but some are at greater risk than others.

While anyone can get it, more serious infections tend to occur in young children, older adults and those who can’t fight infections well.

Although MRSA used to primarily occur in hospitals, it has become a problem in the general public. The risk for MRSA can increase with activities or places that are crowded, involve skin-to-skin contact and have shared equipment or supplies.

Some people have MRSA and don’t even know it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in three carry staph bacteria in their nose, and two out of 100 carry MRSA.

“Some people have MRSA on their skin and don’t even know it or don’t have any signs of an infection from it,” Beuthin said. “We call this being colonized.”

MRSA is very contagious.

If you have broken skin you can get MRSA from either touching an active wound on someone else or by touching someone who has MRSA on their skin and doesn’t know it. MRSA can also be contracted by coming into contact with an object or surface that’s been touched by a person with MRSA.

“Being near someone with MRSA who coughs or sneezes or if you touch surfaces that have MRSA on them can increase your risk of getting it,” Beuthin said. “You can get MRSA if these germs get into your open skin, say, a cut finger, so it’s important to always cover open wounds and cuts when you’re going to be around others.”

Early treatment is important.

To treat MRSA effectively, it’s important to recognize early signs so you can have it treated before it worsens and spreads. Sometimes it can look like a cluster of pimples or insect bites, but most Staphylococcus aureus skin infections like MRSA appear as a bump or infected area on the skin that might be:

  • red
  • swollen
  • painful
  • warm to the touch
  • oozing puss or liquid
  • accompanied by a fever

If you notice any of these symptoms or have concerns, contact your health care provider. To treat, they’ll prescribe you an antibiotic. “It’s very important that you finish all the medication as prescribed,” Beuthin said. “If the medicine doesn’t make the infection go away, you might need to get stronger medication through an IV in the hospital.”

Prevention starts with good hygiene.

“When it comes to the prevention of MRSA, basic hygiene and regular handwashing are very important,” Beuthin said. She shared some tips to help reduce your risk for MRSA infection:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water and use hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol.
  • Clean and cover cuts, scrapes and wounds until they’ve healed.
  • Avoid sharing personal items, such as towels, razors, deodorants, toothbrushes and hairbrushes or combs.
  • Get care early if you think you have an infection.

“Getting medical care early makes it less likely that the infection will become serious,” Beuthin said. If you notice a red bump or cluster of bumps, or an area that is red, swollen, warm, oozing pus and painful to touch, cover the area with a clean bandage and call your doctor right away. Find a Banner Health doctor at bannerhealth.com.

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