MRSA pneumonia may cause trouble breathing and bloody coughs. It requires prompt treatment with special medications.

In 2021, 1.4 million emergency room visits and 41,309 deaths in the United States were due to pneumonia. This lung condition, where air sacs in the lungs become inflamed and fill with fluid or pus, is caused by a variety of germs including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

MRSA is a form of staph bacteria that is resistant to many antibiotics typically used to treat bacterial infections. When an MRSA infection travels through the bloodstream, it can reach organs like the lungs.

MRSA pneumonia may initially cause trouble breathing, but if left untreated, it can quickly develop into sepsis and septic shock.

This article takes a closer look at MRSA pneumonia, including causes, potential complications, treatment, and outlook.

While MRSA has historically been seen mostly in hospital patients, it’s becoming more common to see it in otherwise healthy individuals.

MRSA can be spread through physical contact with someone who has the infection or by sharing personal items like towels and razors. It can also be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces.

MRSA infections occur when the bacteria enters the body through a wound or break in the skin. Although MRSA is not transmitted through the air like many cold and flu viruses, once it enters the bloodstream, it can spread throughout the body to organs like the lungs. When MRSA reaches the lungs, it can develop into MRSA pneumonia.

Individuals are at a greater risk for MRSA pneumonia if they have:

  • recently been in the hospital
  • been on a ventilator
  • a weakened immune system

How to reduce your risk of MRSA pneumonia

To reduce your risk of MRSA pneumonia:

  • wash your hands frequently
  • cover any wounds with a bandage until they heal
  • avoid sharing personal items like razors and towels
  • seek medical assistance quickly if you are showing signs of an infection
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When MRSA infects the lungs, it can cause pus-filled lung abscesses and empyema.

Individuals with MRSA pneumonia may have:

MRSA pneumonia that is left untreated can quickly develop into sepsis and septic shock.

If you have pneumonia symptoms that are not improving, your doctor may run diagnostic tests to try to determine what germs are causing the infection. While they await the results, they may prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics designed to kill the most common germs.

If doctors identify MRSA as the cause of your pneumonia, they will begin treatment with specific antibiotics that MRSA is not resistant to. Linezolid and vancomycin are commonly prescribed. (Some studies indicate that linezolid might be more effective.)

These medications may be given for 7–21 days in the hospital through intravenous (IV) injection or infusion. During this time, doctors may take cultures to ensure that the treatments are working. They may also perform other tests, like a bronchoscopy, to look at the infection inside the lungs.

If you are in the hospital with an MRSA infection, you may be isolated. Special sanitation measures may also be used by doctors to ensure that MRSA germs are not spread to others. These can include always wearing disposable gloves and gowns.

Additional supports may be necessary for those with MRSA pneumonia including:

Studies have shown that not only do individuals with MRSA pneumonia have longer hospital stays and costs than those with non-MRSA pneumonia, but they also have a lower survival rate.

Around 30–40% who develop MRSA pneumonia do not survive. Getting help early improves the chances of a positive outcome.

You can read more about the chance of death from MRSA here.

Sometimes MRSA infections come back. If you continue to experience MRSA infections, your doctor may discuss ways to reduce the amount of MRSA bacteria on your skin.

Pneumonia can be due to many types of germs including MRSA. Individuals with MRSA pneumonia may have trouble breathing and cough up blood. Getting the proper treatment quickly helps reduce the chance of going into septic shock.

It’s important to let your doctor know if you have risk factors for a MRSA infection or have been exposed to MRSA as they try to determine the cause of your pneumonia. MRSA infections require specific medications because they are resistant to many forms of antibiotics.