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Staphylococcus aureus, often simply called "staph," are common bacteria (germs). Everyone has bacteria on their skin and in their noses. Some bacteria can cause infections if there are tiny breaks in the skin. In the United States, staph bacteria are among the most common causes of skin infections. Most of these infections are minor and can be treated without antibiotic medicines. Sometimes, though, staph bacteria can cause serious wound infections. In the past, most serious staph infections were treated with a certain type of antibiotic related to penicillin. Over the past 50 years, it has become harder to treat these infections. The staph bacteria have become resistant to many antibiotics in the penicillin family. These resistant bacteria are called Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA.
People can have MRSA bacteria in their bodies and not get sick. Infection occurs when the bacteria cause disease in the person. Many times the first sign is an infected boil or red, raised areas, often mistaken for “spider bites.”
Many children who develop MRSA abscesses (boils) are exposed through sources in the community. MRSA is spread by contact with infected skin or contaminated objects.
Risk factors include:
Many staph skin infections may be treated just by draining the boil or abscess. Most staph, including MRSA, can be treated with certain antibiotics. If the doctor prescribes an antibiotic, it is very important to take all the medicine as ordered.
Other family members and household pets may be at risk for getting the MRSA infection or for being carriers. If family members develop boils or infected sores, they should contact their doctor for advice. If you notice signs of skin infection on your pets, contact your veterinarian.
MRSA is usually spread by direct contact and not through the air. It can also be spread by touching objects (towels, sheets, wound dressings, clothes, workout areas or sports equipment) that have touched the infected skin of a person with MRSA. Here are some things that you can do to prevent the spread of MRSA infection:
MRSA in the community does not mean the person was exposed to the bacteria in the health care setting. The two forms of MRSA are different types of organisms (germs). However, in the hospital, the things that increase a person’s chances of getting sick from MRSA include:
Staph bacteria can also cause bone infections or severe life-threatening bloodstream infections.
If you have any questions, be sure to ask your doctor or nurse.
MRSA Infection (PDF)
HH-I-244 11/04 Revised 9/11 Copyright 2004 - 2011, Nationwide Children’s Hospital