Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of bacteria that causes an infection that may be resistant to many antibiotics. There are precautions you can take to avoid contracting this bacteria.

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MRSA is a very specific type of bacteria that can cause an infection that’s difficult to treat with antibiotics. It’s possible to get a MRSA infection from just about anywhere, but most people with MRSA tend to develop it in a healthcare facility setting.

Find out what you should know about MRSA, how and where these infections spread, and what to do if you become infected.

Learn more about MRSA.

MRSA spreads by contact with an infected material or person.

In the community, MRSA can be spread through contact with personal items that may carry the bacteria such as towels, razors, or clothing. Contact with an open wound that has MRSA is another common source of infection in the community.

Sharing medical devices can also lead to a community-associated MRSA infection. This has been demonstrated throughout the opioid use epidemic, since people who share needles for drug use have been found to be around 16 times more likely than the general population to develop a staph infection (which includes MRSA along with other Staphylococcus infections).

In the healthcare setting, MRSA can also be spread by contact with a contaminated item or person who has MRSA. Transmission from healthcare professionals to patients is common.

The difference in healthcare-associated MRSA is that invasive treatments and devices are commonly used, so things such as invasive treatment lines placed into your veins or catheters into your bladder can often introduce MRSA to a healthy person.

Standard contact precautions are used to prevent MRSA infections in both the community and the healthcare setting. In the community, this means that you clean, disinfect, or wipe shared items in general and avoid sharing items at all with people that you know have MRSA.

In the healthcare setting, gowns and gloves are used by healthcare professionals to prevent the transmission of MRSA, and people who have MRSA are usually placed in a room by themselves where they don’t share spaces with other patients.

Different types of isolation precautions

There are different types of precautions you should take to prevent infections. Recommendations for these precautions are made based on how each infection is spread.

Contact precautions are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to prevent the spread of MRSA. In the hospital setting, this includes the following measures:

  • single-room housing for infected patients
  • signage alerting others to the presence of MRSA
  • gown and glove use for any skin-to-skin contact

Aside from MRSA, contact precautions are used with infections such as vancomycin-resistant enterococci, Clostridioides difficile, and noroviruses.

Other types of isolation precautions include:

Masks and even respirators are recommended additions for droplet and airborne precautions.

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Anyone can develop an MRSA infection, but people who regularly engage in skin-to-skin contact with others—like during sporting events — are most at risk. People with compromised immune systems are also considered high risk. This includes many people who are already hospitalized.

Invasive devices that are inserted into the body in the healthcare setting can also increase your risk of a MRSA infection. Efforts to reduce the spread of MRSA from devices such as central venous catheters and urinary catheters have been stepped up to reduce the incidence of severe MRSA infections in healthcare settings.

The CDC reports that as a result of these efforts, MRSA infections from normally sterile sites such as blood and other bodily fluids dropped by 40% from 2005 to 2014, and the overall rate of healthcare-associated MRSA infections decreased by 65% during the same period.

Intravenous (IV) drug use also increases your risk of developing a MRSA infection. According to the CDC, individuals who use IV drugs are 16.3 times more likely to develop invasive MRSA than those who don’t use IV drugs.

MRSA infections are notoriously difficult to treat since they can’t be cured with the usual antibiotics that are used to treat other bacterial infections. MRSA infections are resistant to the most common antibiotics, such as:

Typically, newer, specialized, or particularly strong forms of antibiotics must be used to treat an MRSA infection. Examples include antibiotics such as:

  • vancomycin
  • daptomycin
  • linezolid
  • sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim
  • quinupristin-dalfopristin
  • clindamycin
  • tigecycline

If you’re treated with one type of antibiotic and your symptoms don’t improve, let a healthcare professional know right away. You may need to try more than one type of antibiotic before finding the one that’s most effective against your specific infection.

Treatment of MRSA infections will continue to evolve as new strains emerge or bacteria develop new resistance to existing antibiotic treatments.

Hospitals and healthcare facilities are making headway when it comes to taking steps to reduce the transmission of MRSA in the medical setting. Being conservative with the use of antibiotics for minor illnesses or other inappropriate reasons will also help.

Can I get a MRSA infection at the gym?

Community-associated MRSA infections can happen anywhere that close skin-to-skin contact happens or where personal items are shared. Towels, exercise equipment, and even personal contact at gyms can spread MRSA.

What medication is used to treat an MRSA infection?

MRSA is a type of bacterial infection, so antibiotics are usually prescribed as treatment. But, since MRSA is resistant to many common antibiotics, only certain types of antibiotics can work against these infections.

Does taking antibiotics increase my risk of a MRSA infection?

Taking antibiotics when they really won’t help you — such as to treat a virus — or stopping your antibiotics before completing the full course of treatment are just some of the ways we develop antibiotic resistance.

There are many layers to antimicrobial resistance and the emergence of MRSA, but the overuse or misuse of antibiotics is a big one. Talk with a healthcare professional about when and which antibiotics are right for you.

MRSA is a severe bacterial infection that doesn’t respond to treatment with many of the most common antibiotics. To treat these infections — which can happen anywhere — you’ll need specific types of antibiotics You may even require the use of very strong or IV antibiotics.

A MRSA infection can be spread by any person who has MSRA or any object that carries the bacteria, but a doctor will have to perform a test to confirm a diagnosis.

If you’re getting sicker despite treatment or have a wound that won’t heal, talk with your healthcare professional about special measures to take and what could best treat an MRSA infection.