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Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)

What is MRSA?

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, or “staph,” is a very common germ. It is found on the skin or in the nose of many people. Sometimes the bacteria causes no problem, or it causes a mild infection. But it can also cause severe infections of the skin, lungs, blood, or other organs or tissues. Some staph infections can be easily treated with antibiotics. But one type of staph, Methicillin-Resistant staphylococcus areas (MRSA) can’t. It’s called Methicillin-Resistant because the antibiotic methicillin, which used to be effective treatment, no longer works. MRSA is common in hospitals and nursing homes or long-term care facilities. It is also spreading among healthy children and adults outside the health care system. There are two different ways MRSA can appear in the body:

  • Healthcare provider washing hands in hospital room.Colonization: When a person carries the MRSA bacteria (often in nose or on skin), but is healthy. This person can spread MRSA to others.
  • Infection: When a person gets sick because of the bacteria, it's called being infected with MRSA. This person can also spread MRSA to others. If not treated properly, MRSA infections can be very serious.

What are the symptoms of MRSA infection?

MRSA skin infections start as small red bumps on the skin that look like pimples or spider bites. The small bumps usually get larger and become swollen, painful, warm to the touch and filled with pus. MRSA can also start in other ways, and it can spread deeper into the body. Common places and symptoms include:

  • Urinary tract: pain and burning when urinating, the need to urinate more often, fever
  • Blood: high fever, chills, nausea and vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion
  • Bone, muscle, or other tissue infections
  • Lungs: pneumonia in one or both lungs
  • Surgical wound infections
  • Heart: Infection of the lining of the heart called endocarditis

Who’s at risk?

Anyone can get a staph infection. But certain factors make infection more likely, including:

  • A current or recent stay in the hospital
  • Living in a nursing home or long-term care facility or other crowded areas, like military barracks or jail
  • Taking antibiotics
  • Having certain health conditions, such as diabetes or HIV
  • Getting kidney dialysis
  • Sharing sports equipment, razors or other sharp objects

How does MRSA spread?

MRSA usually spreads through skin-to-skin contact, whether through contact with an infected person or on the hands of health care workers who work with infected patients. MRSA can also spread through contact with contaminated objects, such as cart handles and bedrails or shared towels or athletic equipment.

How is MRSA treated?

MRSA infections are usually treated with antibiotics. These may be in pill form or through a vein (intravenous or IV). If you have a skin abscess, we may drain it.

Patients who test positive for MRSA colonization may go through a process called decolonization. We apply a topical antibiotic inside your nose to kill the bacteria. We may also wash your skin with a special soap.

Controlling and Preventing MRSA: In the hospital

Hospitals and nursing homes control and prevent MRSA by doing the following:

  • Handwashing. This is the single most important way to prevent the spread of germs.
  • Protective clothing. Health care workers and visitors may wear gloves and a gown when entering the room of a patient with MRSA. They remove these items before leaving.
  • Private rooms. Patients with MRSA infections are placed in private rooms or in a room with others who have the same infection.
  • Avoid antibiotic overuse. Too much use can cause germs to resist some antibiotics.
  • Monitoring. Hospitals monitor the spread of MRSA and educate all staff on the best ways to prevent it.

What you can do as a patient

  • Ask all hospital staff to wash their hands before touching you. Don’t be afraid to speak up!
  • Wash your own hands often with soap and warm water, or use an alcohol-based hand gel. This is especially important:
    • After using the bathroom
    • After touching a bandage
    • Before eating
  • Encourage family and friends to wash hands as well
  • If you need to have a test done, such as an X-ray, follow instructions from staff. You may need to change into a clean hospital gown and wash your hands just before leaving your room.

Controlling and Preventing MRSA: at Home


  •  Wash your hands often with soap and warm water, or use an alcohol-based hand gel. This is especially important:
    • After using the bathroom
    •  After touching a bandage
    •  Before eating
  • Follow instructions we give you for caring for surgical wounds or any tubes that you have, such as a catheter or dialysis port.
  • Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered until they heal.
  • Do not share towels, razors, clothing or athletic equipment.
  • Take all antibiotics your doctor prescribed. Don’t take half doses or stop the antibiotics, even if you feel better.


  •  Wash your hands well with soap and warm water before and after any contact with the patient. You can use an alcohol-based hand gel if your hands aren’t visibly dirty.
  • Wear disposable gloves when changing a bandage, touching an infected wound or handling dirty laundry. Throw away the gloves after each use. Then wash your hands well.
  • Change the patient’s bedding once a week, or more often if it’s soiled with feces or body fluids. Wash and dry it alone in a washer and dryer using the warmest temperatures recommended on the labels. Use liquid bleach during the wash cycle if the label permits.
  • Clean surfaces like tabletops and sinks really well. Keep bathrooms, toilets and bedside commodes clean. A mixture of 1/4 cup of bleach to 1 quart of water works great for this.

Understanding drug resistance

Hard-to-kill (resistant) germs, such as MRSA, develop when antibiotics are taken longer than needed. They can also develop when antibiotics are taken when they aren't needed, or are not taken exactly as directed. This is because any germs that survive treatment with an antibiotic can multiply and thus create more resistant germs. The more often antibiotics are used, the more chances resistant germs have to develop. This is why your care team may not prescribe antibiotics unless he or she is certain that they are needed.