MRSA is more common in healthcare settings than in the community. In either case, early treatment is important to prevent a potentially fatal infection.

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Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is an antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria.

MRSA spreads in healthcare settings and the community, but it’s much more common in healthcare settings.

MRSA is caused by decades of antibiotic use that leads to bacteria building resistance to common antibiotics.

Some antibiotics can treat MRSA, but it’s important to get treatment quickly. Without treatment, an MRSA infection can spread and may become fatal.

MRSA is a bacterium that causes a staph infection that is resistant to many common antibiotics. It can be difficult to treat.

There are two primary types of MRSA. The first type, healthcare-associated MRSA (HA-MRSA), is the most common type. HA-MRSA spreads in hospitals, nursing care facilities, and other facilities.

The second type of MRSA is called community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA). This type of MRSA spreads by skin-to-skin contact, typically in locations such as child care centers, dorms, group living situations, and locker rooms. CA-MRSA often first appears as a painful boil on the skin.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 5% of patients in U.S. hospitals carry the MRSA bacterium.

The CDC also notes that about one-third of all people, or 33%, have S. aureus bacteria in their noses, usually without illness. About 2 in every 100 people carry MRSA.

There are multiple varieties of S. aureus, or staph, bacteria.

Most types of staph are harmless. Staph bacteria live on the skin and in the nose of one-third of the population. Even when these bacteria enter the body through cuts and wounds, healthy people typically only have minor skin reactions.

MRSA bacteria are different. MRSA is a type of staph that has developed resistance to antibiotics. This happens after decades of antibiotic use, especially unneeded antibiotic use.

When you take antibiotics, there will always be some bacteria that survive. These bacteria pass on knowledge of how to resist antibiotics as they reproduce.

Bacteria have a very short life span, and that means they also evolve very quickly. The more antibiotics you take, the more of these evolved bacteria you create.

Eventually, this leads to MRSA, staph bacteria that can resist a range of common antibiotics.

The risk factors for developing an infection from HA-MRSA and CA-MRSA are different. These infections occur in different settings and affect different populations.

Risk factors for HA-MRSA include:

  • having a weakened immune system
  • being hospitalized
  • being an older adult
  • having an intravenous (IV) line or catheter
  • living in a long-term care facility

Risk factors for CA-MRSA include:

  • skin-to-skin contact, especially when you have open cuts and scrapes
  • participating in contact sports
  • living in crowded conditions, including:
    • correctional facilities
    • dorms
    • military training centers
    • homeless shelters
  • sharing needles or using nonsterile needles to inject drugs
  • having an active HIV infection
  • practicing sex without a condom or other barrier method, especially if you or a partner has one or more CA-MRSA risk factors

MRSA infections resist common antibiotics. This can make them difficult to treat.

Sometimes, this allows infections to spread into the bloodstream, where they can become life threatening. A widespread MRSA infection can become sepsis, a potentially fatal illness.

Since standard antibiotics do not work for MRSA, doctors use specific antibiotics. These antibiotics typically work for both HA-MRSA and CA-MRSA.

Sometimes, additional treatment is needed. For instance, you might need surgery to drain large infected skin boils that MRSA can cause.

The outlook for people with MRSA depends on several factors.

One of the most important factors is how early treatment is received. Early treatment can often help resolve MRSA.

However, other factors, such as a person’s overall health and the severity of the infection, also play a large role in their outcome.

As a rule, MRSA that travels into the bloodstream or lungs has a worse outlook than MRSA that does not.

There are multiple ways to prevent both types of MRSA. As with many infections, steps such as handwashing and overall good hygiene are an important part of keeping yourself and others safe from MRSA.

HA-MRSA prevention includes:

  • having an isolated hospital unit for people with MRSA
  • wearing protective gloves and garments for healthcare workers
  • practicing increased hand hygiene for healthcare workers
  • implementing extra sanitation for hospital and facility rooms

CA-MRSA prevention includes:

  • practicing good hand hygiene
  • always keeping cuts, scrapes, and other wounds covered
  • not sharing personal items with others
  • showering after athletic practices and games

You can learn more about MRSA by reading the answers to some common questions.

What are the symptoms of MRSA?

Staph infections, including MRSA, typically start as a bump or infected area on your skin that is often swollen, painful, warm, and red. The bump might be filled with pus, and you might have a fever.

How can I tell the difference between a staph infection and MRSA?

You can’t diagnose MRSA on your own. Only a medical test can tell the difference between a standard staph infection and MRSA.

Can I pass MRSA to people who visit me in the hospital?

It’s very unlikely that you’ll transmit MRSA to any visitors.

However, visitors can reduce these chances by taking steps such as washing their hands thoroughly before and after their visit. They can also ask hospital staff for gloves and other protective gear to wear during their visit.

MRSA bacteria cause an infection that spreads in healthcare facilities and the broader community.

MRSA is much more common in healthcare settings. Both types of MRSA are resistant to most antibiotics but can be treated with specific antibiotics. It’s important to get treatment for MRSA right away.

Without treatment, MRSA infections can spread to the bloodstream and may be fatal.