MRSA bacteria are often found in the folds of the external genitalia, including the vulva. Internal infections of the vaginal canal are also possible.

MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. The bacteria are typically associated with skin infections and are commonly found in the folds of the external genitalia.

“Vagina” refers to the internal canal that connects the uterus to the outside of the body. “Vulva” refers to the external portions of the genitals, like the labia, clitoris, and clitoral hood.

Although “vaginal MRSA” is often used as a catch-all term for internal and external infections caused by the bacteria, this article distinguishes between internal vaginal and external vulvar infections wherever possible.

It’s unclear how prevalent vaginal and vulvar MRSA infections are.

Researchers in a 2011 study reviewed wet mount samples for 315 sexually active adolescents ages 13–24.

They found Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in 16 samples and detected MRSA in two samples. These findings led researchers to estimate an overall vaginal prevalence of less than 1%.

A 2006 study suggests that vaginal MRSA is more common during pregnancy.

External MRSA infections generally have visible symptoms, such as:

“Often, it looks similar to an ingrown pubic hair,” Monte Swarup, MD, OB-GYN, founder of the health information site Vaginal Health Hub, told Healthline.

Internal MRSA infections affecting the vaginal canal may cause symptoms similar to bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, or other common vaginal infections, said Barry Peskin, MD, OB-GYN, medical adviser at Happy V.

Symptoms of internal MRSA infections include:

MRSA is primarily transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. The bacteria can spread from one location to another. Oftentimes, MRSA enters the vaginal canal during partnered sexual activity.

Certain factors can increase your risk of infection, such as:

“People are also more likely to develop MRSA when they’re staying in areas where there are sick people in crowded conditions, such as hospitals and shelters,” said Swarup.

Doctors can diagnose MRSA infections in a couple of ways. For example, if you have a boil or broken skin, a healthcare professional can collect a sample of pus or discharge to test.

If you don’t have any visible wounds, a healthcare professional will likely recommend a blood or urine test.

Abscesses, boils, and cysts can be drained or removed following diagnosis. A healthcare professional may prescribe a medication to help alleviate pain and soothe irritation.

As the “methicillin-resistant” part of its name suggests, MRSA bacteria are resistant to the antibiotics typically used to treat bacterial infections, said Swarup.

A healthcare professional will prescribe a special course of oral, topical, or intravenous antibiotics. They may also advise you to return for a “test of cure” after completing the full course of treatment.

Prompt diagnosis and treatment can help reduce the risk of complications. Seek immediate medical attention if you develop:

Internal vaginal MRSA infections can cause pelvic inflammatory disease if left untreated. This can ultimately result in scarring of the reproductive organs.

Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.