What is Staph Infection (MRSA)?
A staph infection is any infection that is caused by bacteria belonging to the staphylococcus species. This strain usually affects the skin but may also impact other systems.
Most types of staphylococcus can be treated with antibiotics. However, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is antibiotic resistant, meaning it is harder to treat.
This bacteria can spread from contact with an infected wound or the personal items of a person with MRSA. Two out of 100 people are carriers of MRSA. (1)
The skin of most individuals is host to one or more species of staphylococcus. These bacteria live harmlessly in areas such as the nasal passages, buttocks and armpits.
A staph infection occurs when there is a break in the skin, such as a cut. The bacteria can enter the skin and cause inflammation. (2)
Most staphylococci can be addressed with antibiotics within the penicillin family. Unfortunately, certain strains are becoming increasingly antibiotic resistant. (3)
Methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is one such strain. As with other variations of staphylococci, MRSA can reside harmlessly on your body.
However, certain individuals are more at risk for infection than others. This is particularly true of people in a healthcare setting, for example, patients in hospitals.
A weak immune system can increase your risk of MRSA. This may be due to recent surgery, illness or invasive treatments such as chemotherapy.
You are also more vulnerable to MRSA if you have a fixed medical device. These include catheters, feeding tubes and intravenous (IV) drips. (4)
MRSA encountered within hospitals is known as hospital-associated (HA) MRSA. If the bacteria spreads outside of the establishment, it is known as community associated (CA) MRSA. (5)
CA-MRSA usually occurs in crowded settings such as daycares, military barracks, and prisons. It usually affects individuals who are otherwise healthy. (6)
MRSA typically manifests at the site of an opening on the skin. It is very difficult to visually differentiate between MRSA and a standard skin infection.
MRSA can appear as a small bump or infected wound on your skin. Symptoms can be described as follows: (7)
The affected area may appear red. This is a telltale sign of infection and can indicate MRSA.
The site of the wound or bump may swell up. This swelling can be tender to the touch,
and may contain fluid (e.g. pus).
If you notice pus leaking from a skin injury, seek medical attention. This means the area is infected, possibly with MRSA.
The bump or injury can feel warm or hot to the touch, which is another typical symptom of infection.
Depending on how severe the staph infection is, the area may be mildly to severely painful.
Progression of the methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is determined by the infection site, your overall health, and how it was contracted.
For this reason, there are no distinct stages for this condition. However, staph infection (MRSA) can be classed according to what systems it affects: (9)
Skin and Soft Tissue Infections (SSTI)
Community associated (CA) MRSA is typically linked to infections of the skin and soft tissue.
Cellulitis is one such common infection caused by MRSA. It affects the layers underneath your skin, and can become serious if left untreated.
Other more severe skin infections associated with MRSA include necrotizing fasciitis. This is a disease with a rapid onset that causes your body’s soft tissue to die off.
CA-MRSA and hospital associated (HA) MRSA can both cause pneumonia. CA-MRSA has been linked to cases of necrotizing pneumonia.
This condition can quickly cause sepsis (blood poisoning) if untreated. HA-MRSA is a primary cause of pneumonia in hospitals, known as hospital-acquired pneumonia.
HA-MRSA can also result in ventilator associated pneumonia (VAP). This is pneumonia that develops after a person is put on ventilation, such as intubation.
VAP caused by HA-MRSA typically occurs approximately 48 hours after ventilation. It can cause serious complications, particularly if you require mechanical (artificial) ventilation to breathe.
When bacteria enters your blood, it is known as bacteremia.
Bacteremia caused by MRSA is frequently seen in individuals in intensive care. These patients usually have central venous lines inserted.
These are catheters which are placed into your veins to allow long term administration of certain medications, nutrients and fluids.
MRSA that results in bacteremia is typically more resistant than usual to antibiotics. This type of MRSA infection carries a mortality risk of 15 to 60 percent.
If you present with symptoms of methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), your doctor will review your history.
Hospital-associated (HA) MRSA is suspected if you have recently been hospitalized. Your doctor will also ask if you have already had an MRSA infection in the past.
If you are in good health and have not recently been in hospital, community-associated (CA) MRSA may be the culprit.
Your doctor will likely question your lifestyle and hygiene practices. For example, asking if you live in crowded quarters or if you share personal items (e.g. towels) with others. (10)
A tissue sample will be collected from the site of the infection for laboratory analysis.
Collected samples will then be subjected to a bacterial culture to check for the presence of MRSA. (11)
MRSA is also discovered during routine screenings. If you are going to remain in the hospital for longer than one night, you will likely be tested for MRSA.
Treatment for MRSA aims to prevent the bacteria from spreading and also to eradicate infection. Your doctor will recommend one or more of the following options:
This treatment can be implemented for individuals who are about to enter a hospital and have MRSA.
Even if it is not causing infection, eradication is safer to avoid transmission within the hospital.
You will receive antibacterial cream and shampoo. You will apply the cream to your nasal passages three times daily for a period of five days.
The antibacterial shampoo should be used once per day for the same period. While being treated, you must change your clothing, towel and bedding after each use.
Wash your items separately from those of your family or house companions to avoid spreading the infection.
If your MRSA is causing an active infection, you will likely be prescribed a disinfectant soap. Ensure that you cleanse the affected area on a daily basis or as per your doctor’s instructions. (12)
Despite being generally antibiotic resistant, there are some antibiotics that work to treat methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Depending on the severity of your condition, you will receive a course of antibiotics for several days or weeks. (13)
Trimethaphan-sulfamethoxazole is typically prescribed first. Other antibiotics include dicloxacillin, cephalexin and clindamycin.
If one antibiotic fails to work against MRSA, a combination of antibiotics may be used. This treatment is known as multidrug therapy.
Side effects of antibiotics may include gastrointestinal distress, rashes, fevers and headache. (14)
What is staph infection (MRSA)? A staph infection is caused by bacteria from the staphylococcus species. Methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is an antibiotic resistant strain of staphylococcus.
What are the signs of staph infection (MRSA)? The signs of a staph infection (MRSA) generally manifest on your skin. A bump or wound can appear red, swollen, crusty, painful, and contain pus. You might also experience fever and dizziness.
How do you develop staph infection (MRSA)? You can develop MRSA or other staph infections through contact with an infected person’s skin or personal items, such as a razor. The infection can also live harmlessly on your skin and only cause infection if it enters an open wound.
How are you diagnosed for staph infection (MRSA)? A sample from the site of the suspected MRSA infection (e.g. skin) will be sent for a bacterial culture analysis.
What is the best treatment for staph infection (MRSA)? Treatment for MRSA aims to reduce the bacteria from spreading and eradicate it through decolonization and antibiotics.
What are the long term complications of staph infection (MRSA)? MRSA can be difficult to treat due to its immunity to most antibiotics. It can also result in severe conditions such as sepsis and pneumonia. Recurrence rates of MRSA range from nine to 50 percent within a year of initial diagnosis. (15, 16)
Is staph infection (MRSA) considered a disability? Yes, if your MRSA has lasted for more than three months and impairs your ability to work you may be eligible for disability. (17)
Is there any cure for staph infection (MRSA)? Yes, MRSA can be cured. However, it may take time to find one or more antibiotics capable of overcoming the infection, and it may recur. (18)
Is staph infection (MRSA) life threatening? Yes, MRSA can be life threatening. In intensive care units, MRSA infection is associated with a higher risk of death. (19)
You can take precautions to reduce your chance of contracting methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus. Practice good hygiene and wash your hands frequently. Avoid sharing personal items with other individuals.
If you have a wound or fixed medical device, take care of it as per your doctor’s instructions.