Staphylococcus aureus (“staph”) is a common bacteria often found on the skin or in the nose of healthy people. The organism can cause infections, both minor ones such as pimples and boils as well as more serious wound or bloodstream infections. Some staph bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics.
MRSA refers to a type of staph that is resistant to beta-lactam antibiotics. Beta lactam antibiotics include methacillin and other common antibiotics such as penicillin, oxacillin and amoxicillin. Approximately 25% to 30% of the general population are colonized with staph. Colonized means the bacteria is present on the body but does not cause an infection. Only 1% of these people have the MRSA form of the bacteria.
In the past most MRSA infections usually were diagnosed in hospitalized patients who were chronically ill or debilitated. We are now seeing MRSA infections in healthy younger people and it is common that these infections are acquired in the community, not in the hospital.
Higher risk groups include:
- amateur and professional athletes – have close contact, often share equipment
- children in daycare
- users of injected recreational drugs
- men who have sex with men
MRSA is primarily transmitted by direct physical contact and may be spread via clothing, towels, bed linens or equipment that is contaminated with drainage from an infected abrasion or cut.
Good hygiene is the best prevention for staph or MRSA skin infections:
- wash hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol hand gel product
- keep cuts and abrasions clean and covered with a band aid or dressing until healed avoid contact with other people’s cuts, abrasions or soiled dressings
- avoid sharing personal items such as razors or towels
In addition, athletes and sports teams should also be aware of the following:
- ensure availability of adequate soap and hot water - showering and washing with soap after every practice or competition is important for good hygiene
- launder personal items such as towels, supporters, etc. after each use
- clean shared athletic equipment such as pads, helmets at least once a week but ideally after each use
- consider excluding athletes with potentially infected skin lesions from playing until lesions are healed or can be covered adequately
- discourage sharing of towels and personal items (clothing and equipment)
- be alert for any skin irritation and report skin lesions to trainers and coaches – they should be able to recognize wounds that are potentially infectious and need treatment
Most staph and MRSA infections are treatable with specific antibiotics. Some skin infections such as boils or abscesses may need to be drained by a medical provider. If you are being treated with an antibiotic and are not better in a few days, contact your healthcare provider. You may need a different antibiotic.
Also, if other people you know or live with appear to have a similar infection, make sure they seek medical attention and tell their provider about your infection.