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Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus

What is MRSA?

MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is a strain of Staph bacteria that can cause infection. Antibiotics are used to kill bacteria, but MRSA bacteria are resistant to some of the antibiotics used to treat Staph infections.

What increases my risk for MRSA?

  • You have taken antibiotics in the last month or have been treated in the hospital in the past year.

  • You have an abscess (pus pocket), eczema, or dry, cracked skin on your hands or body.

  • You have cuts, scrapes, or burns.

  • You have had MRSA before or have been exposed to MRSA.

  • You receive dialysis or other treatments in a healthcare setting, or you live in a long-term care facility.

  • You live in a crowded place such as a military center or a prison. Children in daycare also have a higher risk.

  • You use an athletic facility or play competitive sports.

What illnesses can develop with MRSA?

Most MRSA bacteria cause skin infections, but sometimes infections can develop in other parts of the body. MRSA infections can sometimes be life-threatening. These infections may affect:

  • Deeper skin layers and tissues

  • Bones and joints

  • The brain and spinal cord (meningitis)

  • The blood and heart

  • The lungs (pneumonia)

What are the signs and symptoms of MRSA?

Signs and symptoms depend on where the infection is in your body and how bad the infection is. Symptoms of MRSA infection include:

  • Fever and chills

  • Skin infections are often painful open sores, boils, or lumps under your skin. Your skin may look red and swollen and feel tender and warm. Pus may drain from the sore. You may see areas where the skin is breaking down.

  • Bone pain, stiffness, or tenderness, including problems moving the affected area or bearing weight

  • Headache, confusion, and a stiff neck

  • Coughing, shortness of breath, and tiredness

How is MRSA diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask you about any MRSA risk factors that you may have. Tell your caregiver about your symptoms and when they began. He will examine you and order tests, such as:

  • Blood tests: Samples of your blood may be tested for signs of inflammation or infection.

  • Pus or mucus culture: Samples of pus or mucus are tested to find the bacteria causing your infection. This helps caregivers choose the best medicine to treat you.

  • Imaging tests: Caregivers may order a chest x-ray to check for pneumonia. Ultrasound, CT, or MRI can help find an abscess. These tests can also show where tissue is swollen or breaking down. Echocardiogram or transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) help diagnose MRSA infection of the heart valves. A TEE test is only done on adults.

  • Lumbar puncture: Caregivers may take a sample of your spinal fluid to test for meningitis. A needle is used to remove fluid from your lower spine.

How is MRSA treated?

Some MRSA infections of the skin can be treated at home. Other MRSA infections need hospital treatment. Treatment can help prevent the spread of MRSA infection to other parts of your body. Treatments can include:

  • Antibiotics: You may be given an antibiotic that is effective against your MRSA infection. You may need to use antibiotics for weeks or even months to treat some MRSA infections.

  • Incision and drainage: Boils or abscesses may be opened and drained to remove the fluid.

  • Debridement or surgery: Debridement is a procedure to remove dead or infected tissue from more severe wounds. You may need surgery if other treatments are not effective against MRSA or it continues to spread.

How do I care for MRSA skin infections at home?

  • Cover small boils with a warm, moist compress to help them drain.

  • If the infection is on your arm or leg, use pillows to raise the area. This will help reduce swelling.

  • Cover draining wounds with clean, dry bandages.

How can I reduce my risk of getting MRSA and prevent its spread?

  • Always clean your hands after you touch the infected area. Wash your hands often with soap and hot water. Carry germ-killing gel with you and use it to clean your hands when you have no soap and water.

  • Use clean towels and bed linens. Do not share towels or washcloths, razors, bar soap, lotions, or creams.

  • Clean surfaces well, including counters, door knobs, bath tubs, and toilet seats. Ask your caregiver what kind of cleaner to use.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have been exposed to MRSA.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately if:

  • Your fever has not decreased or is getting worse after 2 days of treatment.

  • Your skin infection is not healing or is getting worse after 2 days of treatment.

  • Other symptoms, such as cough, shortness of breath, tiredness, or headache, have not decreased or are getting worse.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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