Warning signs of mrsa


MRSA Research Center

  • I want to work as a student, get a fellowship or become a part of your team. Whom do I talk to?

    If you are interested in a Pediatric Infectious Disease Fellowship under the direction of Dr. Robert S. Daum, Principal Investigators of the MRSA Research Center, please contact:

    Rasika Ranganathan
    Program Manager
    University of Chicago Medical Center
    Department of Pediatrics
    Infectious Diseases Section
    5841 South Maryland Avenue, MC 6054
    Chicago, IL 60637
    773.702.2367 direct

    If you are a pediatrician (Medical Doctor) and interested in a graduate program in Microbiology, please contact:

    Alecia Rose
    Graduate Studies
    The University of Chicago Medical Center
    Biological Sciences Division
    Department of Microbiology
    920 East 58th Street, CLSC 1117
    Chicago, IL 60637
    773.834.3550 phone

    If you are interested in possible employment at the MRSA Research Center, please contact:

    Rasika Ranganathan
    Program Manager
    University of Chicago Medical Center
    Department of Pediatrics
    Infectious Diseases Section
    5841 South Maryland Avenue, MC 6054
    Chicago, IL 60637
    773.702.2367 direct

  • What is the best way for someone who has a real interest in MRSA research to help (donations, surveys, etc.)?

    If you would like to make a financial gift to the MRSA Research Center, please visit:

    If you would like to be considered for possible participation in a MRSA Research Center research study, please contact:

    Rasika Ranganathan
    Program Manager
    University of Chicago Medical Center
    Department of Pediatrics
    Infectious Diseases Section
    5841 South Maryland Avenue, MC 6054
    Chicago, IL 60637
    773.702.2367 direct

    • What is MRSA?
    • Can MRSA be treated with antibiotics?
    • How likely are you to die from MRSA?
    • Is it a flesh-eating bug?
    • What are the symptoms?
    • How can it be prevented?
    • Can it only be caught in hospital?
    • Do you catch it because hospitals are dirty?
    • Can it be passed on from person to person? If so, how?
    • What types of people are likely to catch MRSA?
    • Is there a cure for it?
    • Is there a long-term effect on your life if you have had the infection?
    • Are there any health insurance implications from contracting/carrying MRSA?
    • Is MRSA passed on to unborn children?
    • What can I do to prevent MRSA at home and when I come to hospital as a visitor or as a patient?
    • How can I find out if I carry MRSA?
    • Do animals carry it?
    • Can animals pass it on to humans?
    • Where can you find out more information about MRSA?

    What is MRSA?

    MRSA stands for methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium commonly carried on the skin (MSSA). However, the issue is the methicillin resistance, which means it has developed a resistance to the most common antibiotic used for its treatment.

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    Can MRSA be treated with antibiotics?

    Yes, it still can be treated, but antibiotic treatment is only for clinical infection. Patients who are not clinically infected, but are colonised with MRSA, i.e. carry it up their nose or on their skin, are treated with a disinfectant liquid soap and a cream put up the nose to reduce the levels there while they are in hospital.

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    How likely are you to die from MRSA?

    This is unlikely.

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    Is it a flesh-eating bug?

    Essentially the answer is no. However, some strains of Staphylococcus aureus, which may be methicillin resistant or not, can produce a toxin which is commonly know as a flesh eating bug. This is very rare.

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    What are the symptoms?

    If you are colonised with (just carrying) MRSA there are no symptoms.

    If you are clinically infected, the symptoms are the same as with any other infection, i.e. again dependent on where it is, but essentially for a skin infection, it’s red, inflamed and painful, and you may have a temperature.

    With a chest infection, you may produce green sputum and again have a temperature.

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    How can it be prevented?

    It is not always possible to prevent acquiring MRSA or other bugs. Good standards of personal hygiene, including hand washing, can help.

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    Can it only be caught in hospital?

    No. Certainly, in healthcare settings and communities such as nursing or residential homes, cross infection can take place and there is evidence of community spread.

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    Do you catch it because hospitals are dirty?

    No, MRSA is not caught because hospitals are dirty. But the environment does have a role to play with spread in relation to many healthcare-acquired infections.

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    Can it be passed on from person to person? If so, how?

    Yes, it can be passed from person to person, through direct contact without adequate hand washing after that contact. Or if somebody has a severe chest infection, MRSA can be passed via the respiratory route, through coughing.

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    What types of people are likely to catch MRSA?

    Anybody can acquire MRSA. Whether or not it then causes any symptoms depends on whether they have severe medical problems.

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    Is there a cure for it?

    This depends on how you define a cure. There are effective treatments. If you just carry the bug, essentially, you will have no symptoms. Therefore, acquisition by others who come into close contact may occur, but again they will have no symptoms and will not know they have got it unless they are screened.

    It is unlikely that it will cause a clinical infection. There are several different antibiotic treatments available for infections.

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    Is there a long-term effect on your life if you have had the infection?

    There is no evidence to suggest there is a long term effect on your life if you have had MRSA.

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    Are there any health insurance implications from contracting/carrying MRSA?

    You will need to check with insurance companies, but we have no evidence to suggest so.

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    Is MRSA passed on to unborn children?

    It is possible for a mother to pass MRSA onto the child via the birth canal during a normal delivery.

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    What can I do to prevent MRSA at home and when I come to hospital as a visitor or as a patient?

    Essentially, good standards of personal hygiene, hand hygiene and the use of alcohol gels reduce the risk of cross infection with all organisms, not just MRSA.

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    How can I find out if I carry MRSA?

    The only way to identify if you carry it is to be screened. For more information, please see the related link box.

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    Do animals carry it?

    Yes, there is an evidence base that suggests animals do carry MRSA, probably acquired from human sources.

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    Can animals pass it on to humans?

    Yes, cats and dogs, for example, carry it on their paws. Stroking pets, and other contact with animal carriers, can pass the bacteria to humans.

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    Where can you find out more information about MRSA?

    Please see the external links section for further information about MRSA.

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    MRSA infections are common among people who have weak immune systems who are in hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care centers. Infections can appear around surgical wounds or invasive devices, like catheters or implanted feeding tubes.

    According to the CDC, invasive MRSA infections that began in hospitals declined 8% between 2011 and 2013.

    Community-Associated MRSA (CA-MRSA)

    Alarmingly, MRSA is also showing up in healthy people who have not been hospitalized. This type of MRSA is called community-associated MRSA, or CA-MRSA.

    CA-MRSA skin infections have been identified among certain populations that share close quarters or have more skin-to-skin contact. Examples are team athletes, military recruits, prison inmates, and children in daycare. But more and more CA-MRSA infections are being seen in the general community, especially in certain geographic regions.

    CA-MRSA is also more likely to affect younger people. In a study of Minnesotans published in TheJournal of the American Medical Association, the average age of people with MRSA in a hospital or health care facility was 68. But the average age of a person with CA-MRSA was only 23.

    What is superbug staph (MRSA)?

    Commonly called the “superbug,” MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a bacterium that can cause serious infections. It is “super” because it is resistant to numerous antibiotics, including methicillin and penicillin, so it is harder to treat than many bacterial infections.

    MRSA belongs to the large group of bacteria known as staphylococci, often referred to as staph. Up to 33% of all people carry the staph bacteria within the lining tissues of the nose, but it normally does not cause an infection. In contrast, only about 2% of the population are carriers of MRSA.

    How do you get MRSA?

    Infections with MRSA can occur in hospitals and other institutional health-care settings, such as nursing homes, where they tend to strike older people, those who are very ill, and people with a weakened immune system. In health-care settings, MRSA is a frequent cause of surgical wound infections, urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections (sepsis), and pneumonia.

    MRSA outbreaks, however, can also occur in people who have not been hospitalized or had a medical procedure performed in the past year and who do not have immune deficiency. These infections are termed community-associated MRSA infections (CA-MRSA). CA-MRSA infections have increased dramatically in the U.S. since the mid-1990s.

    Community-associated MRSA infections usually affect the skin, causing pimples and boils in otherwise healthy people. Infected areas may be red, swollen, painful, and have pus or other drainage.

    MRSA is typically transmitted from people with active MRSA infections. MRSA and other staph infections are primarily transmitted by the hands, which may become contaminated by contact with colonized or infected people or items or surfaces contaminated with body fluids containing MRSA. Skin-to-skin contact, cuts or abrasions of the skin, contaminated items and surfaces, crowded living conditions, and poor hygiene have all been associated with the transmission of MRSA in the community.

    MRSA Treatment and Prevention

    If you believe you have a staph infection, visit your health-care professional. Most staph and MRSA infections can be treated with antibiotics, but skin lesions may also be treated by drainage of the lesion under sterile conditions. MRSA infections that have been treated can recur and require further treatment.

    Good hygiene is the most effective way to prevent MRSA infections and to prevent the recurrence of treated lesions. Hands should be kept clean by frequent washings or use of hand-sanitizer lotions. Openings in the skin, such as cuts, should be kept clean and covered until healed. Contact with other people’s skin wounds should be avoided, and personal-care items such as towels and razors should not be shared with others.


    MRSA, the superbug

    Last week, a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disclosed that out of nearly 300 raw meat samples purchased from 30 Detroit supermarkets, six samples tested positive for the bacterium MRSA.

    This isn’t the first time MRSA has been found in the meat we eat, not to mention in gyms, hospitals and on commuter trains. Resistant to antibiotics and growing tougher by the year, MRSA has been touted as a superbug for our end times, responsible for 19,000 deaths each year in the U.S. Are its rising rates a true public health calamity or an overblown cause for alarm? Here’s what you should know.

    1. It’s not necessarily flesh eating.

    MRSA is a strain of the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, otherwise known as S. aureus, that’s resistant to methicillin antibiotics used against infections. Regular S. aureus is actually common – healthy people can have it on their skin or inside their noses. It’s when MRSA gets into a cut, catheter, or open wound and enters your bloodstream that an infection can get serious. Gone unchecked, it attacks the immune system and can lead to complications such as blood poisoning, pneumonia, organ failure and even death.

    Though characterized as a flesh-eating superbug, MRSA infections can start off as simple as a boil or pimple and can become an abscess, blister or sore. See a list of symptoms.

    2. The sick are getting sicker.

    MRSA infections are occurring with rising frequency in hospitals, where staph bacteria wreak havoc on patients who are already weakened. Hospital-acquired infections are blamed for more than 98,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Sixty-three percent of staph infections were caused by MRSA in 2004, in contrast with only 22 percent in 1995 and 2 percent in 1974.

    MRSA germs can live for hours on the surfaces of blood-pressure cuffs or other medical equipment, and are transmitted easily between patients and health care workers. Screening patients for MRSA, or even requiring health care workers to wash their hands more often, would help stem infections, but cost is often cited as an issue. Treating a MRSA infection is even more pricey: one study found that the average cost is $47,000.

    3. Not your grandmother’s MRSA.

    Today’s newer, stronger strain of MRSA isn’t just threatening the old and the infirm. These so-called community-associated MRSA infections are occurring in healthier and younger individuals who haven’t been hospitalized. Gym equipment, tattoo parlors and shared towels or razor blades are some common ways of spreading infections. Outbreaks are more likely to occur where people are in close proximity to one another, such as in schools, gyms and prisons.

    Another culprit may be the prevalence of antibiotic use, which has produced more virulent strains of bacteria that are harder to wipe out. Community-associated MRSA is one such strain, and as it gets stronger, it’s getting more difficult to treat.

    4. Blame the animal farm.

    In 2004, a MRSA link was found between pigs and humans in the Netherlands, when several family members, workers and pigs on one hog farm all tested positive for the bacteria. Pig farmers in the Netherlands were reported to be 760 times more likely to have MRSA than the general population. In the U.S., 45 percent of pig farmers and 49 percent of pigs tested were also found to have MRSA (carriers don’t necessarily have symptoms).

    What’s the connection? Industrial livestock farming, which houses animals in very close quarters, necessitates feeding these animals antibiotics so they don’t become infected by unsanitary living conditions. One 2001 study concluded that healthy livestock consumes 70 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S. The result is that the animals grow faster, but they’re also more likely to become resistant to antibiotics. MRSA bacteria can then be passed on to humans who handle the animals or drink groundwater that’s been polluted from hog farms.

    5. The future is murky.

    MRSA in your meats isn’t a death sentence. The strain of MRSA discovered in the Detroit grocery stores was a human strain, possibly passed on by food handlers or in processing plants. The infection could be passed on to consumers if they handled raw meat while having open cuts on their hands, for instance (wear gloves for protection if this is the case). Cooking your meat thoroughly and washing any kitchen utensils it touches can get rid of the bacteria.

    But as it evolves, MRSA may cease to be treatable. And it won’t be the only antibiotic-resistant bacteria in town: new bacterial strains like Acinetobacter baumannii are proving to be even more challenging to treat. As the Infectious Diseases Society of America claims, growing antibiotic resistance is “an emerging crisis” and “considered a substantial threat to U.S. public health and national security.”

    MRSA can kill you

    Published: February 26, 2008

    Last updated on August 31st, 2017

    By Norman K. Brown, M.D.,
    UTU medical consultant

    Please wash your hands. Micro-organisms – bacteria, viruses, yeasts – are all around us. Bacteria live especially closely with us, most often in a friendly manner, in the nose, mouth, lower intestine, genitals, on the skin, and in many healthy foods, such as yogurt.

    We, in fact, need these friendly bacteria.

    However, in recent years, the most common bacteria on our skin – staphylococcus, or staph, for short — has developed a strain that is resistant to the penicillin-type antibiotics.

    This “methicillin resistant staph aureus,” so called MRSA, not only resists good antibiotics, but also tends to be a nasty organism when it invades one of us deeper than the skin surface.

    Infections with MRSA are usually spread when MRSA starts growing in a break in your skin. Since MRSA in small numbers are just resting on the skins of many of us, they are nowadays very often the first invaders to take advantage of a break in your skin, such as after a cut, a pimple or an insect bite.

    Trouble does not usually show up immediately. So any time that a break in your skin heals too slowly, or becomes red, swollen or painful — say two to three days later — be suspicious of infection and consult with your doctor for recommendations and treatment promptly.

    But even before you get such an infection, let’s think about simple ways to head it off in the first place.

    When you have been exposed to possibly bacteria-laden materials, such as a scab or pus from somebody else, or maybe a boil, a soiled bandage, mucus from the nose or coughed out, or any portions of a bowel movement, please clean your skin as soon as you can.

    I am told that alcohol wipes may be the only method available for bus and train operators — and they do the job; so think of them as equivalent to, “Please, wash your hands.”

    Soap and warm water are better, in my opinion, when available. By the way, there is good evidence that a few bacteria, even MRSA, on our skin is normal and healthy; but large numbers — usually from someone else’s infection — can be the problem.

    So, reasonably clean skin, not forever sterile, is the goal.

    Keeping our hands clean enough to be comfortable eating with them at any time will go a long way toward preventing MRSA infections.

    MRSA is not thought to move through the air, but rather gets transferred around with our own hands, on the skin. So as you work through your day, try to avoid touching materials that may be contaminated with MRSA in the first place — even on your own body. But if you do have to handle them, remember what mom said: “Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap.”

    MRSA and Children: What You Should Know

    Millions of Americans develop serious infections each year from drug-resistant staphylococcus bacteria. This type of staph bacteria is known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), although it’s resistant to common antibiotics, including penicillin and amoxicillin.

    MRSA infections originally appeared mostly in hospitals and nursing homes. A virulent kind of resistant “staph” has developed outside of health care settings. It’s known as community-acquired MRSA. Like hospital MRSA infections, it can become life-threatening if the bacterium spreads from the skin, to the lungs, the bloodstream, or other organs in the body.

    What are the symptoms of MRSA?

    MRSA infections generally begin as skin infections. The bacterium invades the skin through an open sore, cut, or scrape. For children, the most common source of infection is a simple cut or abrasion.

    If caught early, a MRSA infection is usually easy to treat. It’s important to seek medical treatment for your child immediately if you notice any symptoms, because the infection can rapidly become serious if it’s not treated right away.

    These are symptoms of a MRSA skin infection:

    • Bump that is painful, red, leaking pus, and/or swollen (this may resemble a spider bite, pimple, or boil)

    • Bumps under the skin that are swollen or hard to the touch

    • Skin around a sore that is warm or hot to the touch

    • Bump that grows rapidly and/or does not heal

    • Painful sore accompanied by a fever

    • Rash or pus-filled blisters

    • Draining boil or abscess

    MRSA infections often start at a location where the skin is already visibly broken, such as with a cut or sore. They may also occur in places that are usually covered by hair.

    When to seek medical care

    Call your health care provider right away if you suspect that your child’s cut is infected or if you notice unusual, painful red bumps or pustules. Do not try to drain or treat a MRSA infection on your own. This can spread the infection to other people or make it worse for your child. Instead, cover the suspected infection, wash your hands thoroughly, and call your child’s doctor.

    If your child has a skin infection along with signs of a systemic infection, such as a fever, chills, severe headache, and rash, he or she needs immediate medical attention.

    What are the complications of MRSA?

    Left untreated, a MRSA skin infection may:

    • Infect other people through physical contact or contact with contaminated items

    • Cause damage to surrounding tissue

    • Turn into an infection that spreads through the body and that may cause blood poisoning, pneumonia, flesh-eating disease, life-threatening shock, and death

    How is MRSA diagnosed?

    Your health care provider may:

    • Take your child’s temperature and blood pressure

    • Examine the sore and other parts of your child’s body

    • Take samples of pus, tissue, blood, or sputum for culture and analysis

    • Do imaging tests if infection has spread to joints or bones

    How is MRSA treated?

    If your child has a mild MRSA skin infection, your doctor will likely treat it by opening the infected sore and draining out the pus. Your child will likely also be given a prescription antibiotic ointment and possibly antibiotics by mouth. The doctor will tell you how to keep the area clean and covered while it heals.

    If the infection has spread to other parts of the body, the medical team may need to stabilize your child and treat the infection with intravenous (IV) antibiotics in the hospital. In some cases, such as infection of the joints, your child may need surgery to allow the infection to drain.

    If your child is prescribed antibiotics, make sure he or she takes every dose in the way your health care provider advises. Many infections can be cured within 14 days, but MRSA may last longer. Make sure your child takes all the medication as prescribed even if he or she feels better. Your doctor will probably want to follow up with you to make sure the infection is healed.

    When the infection is particularly stubborn, your health care provider may also recommend that your child take baths in diluted bleach water–one-half cup of bleach in a bathtub that is one-quarter full–to prevent spreading. Body washing with chlorhexidine, an antibacterial soap, may also be recommended.

    A secondary approach to managing MRSA infection is to remove the bacteria where they often live without causing trouble: the nose. Your doctor may recommend certain medications for your child’s nose to kill any MRSA that live there.

    If you follow all the recommended steps and notice that your child’s infection is not healing or is getting worse, contact your health care provider right away.

    Can MRSA be prevented?

    Although MRSA is an alarming prospect, the steps to prevent it are simple and affordable. Here are tips on how you and your children can protect yourselves:

    • Wash hands often. Teaching your children to wash their hands, and washing your own hands with soap and water will help stop all kinds of infections, including MRSA, from spreading. When soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

    • Use bandages when needed. Keep sores and cuts covered and clean until they heal.

    • Don’t touch sores. Teach children not to touch or play with sores and scabs—theirs or other children’s. Also, don’t let children scratch their skin so much that they create tiny breaks in it; use an anti-itch cream on some areas if necessary. This is particularly important if they get chickenpox or another itchy disease.

    • Don’t share personal items. Teach children not to share personal items such as towels, just as adults shouldn’t share razors or other skin care items.

    • Be careful around hospitalized individuals. When visiting loved ones in the hospital or a residential care facility, practice good personal hygiene and avoid touching catheters, ports, and IVs where they enter the skin. Wash your hands with soap after you leave the room. Teach children to do the same.

    • Teach prevention tips for athletes. Student athletes may need to take additional steps to prevent infection, including:

      • Shower immediately after competition or practice, especially after contact sports. Always shower before getting into a whirlpool with other athletes.

      • Keep equipment and supplies clean, and wash uniforms after each use.

      • Make sure sanitizing products are available for cleaning mats and other shared sports equipment. Check with coaches and other adults to be sure that these are used.

      • Don’t compete in contact sports if you have a wound that is open or bleeding. Keep all cuts and scrapes covered.

    Children could be at risk in crowded situations, such as day-care settings and team sports, where infections can spread easily through contact. Ask about the steps taken to prevent the spread of infection. These should include regularly disinfecting surfaces, toys, and mats.

    If you or your child has a MRSA infection, make sure that others in the household, school, and sports teams are aware of the infection, so that they can take steps to protect themselves and other children.

    The bacteria that causes a staph infection, staphylococcus aureus, is all around you all the time. It lives on surfaces and on the ground. You might also carry it on your skin and in your nose. So how does it go from harmless companion to troublesome foe?

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    “Typically, we get along with staphylococcus just fine,” says family medicine physician Donald Ford, MD, MBA. But when staph enters your body through a nick or cut in your skin, it may result in an infection.

    These infections are usually minor and can be treated with antibiotics. Staph can become much more serious, though — even life-threatening — if it somehow finds its way into your bloodstream, lungs, bones, joints or heart.

    Different types of staph infections

    A staph infection might show up on your skin as:

    • Blisters: These look similar to whiteheads or pimples. Once they break open and the pus drains out, the infection’s threat goes away.
    • Boils: Boils are deeper than blisters and are often painful. The skin surrounding a boil appears red, swollen and sore.
    • Impetigo: This is a contagious skin rash that sometimes secretes fluid that forms a yellow crust over the rash. Though impetigo is painful or itchy, it’s typically not serious. It’s most common in children.
    • Cellulitis: If your infection gets under the layers of your skin and spreads, it could cause skin inflammation called cellulitis. Your skin will look red and swollen and may be warm to the touch. You may even develop sores. Cellulitis can become more serious if it’s not treated immediately.

    Most staph infections on the skin are easy to treat and typically respond well to antibiotics or by draining the infected area, Dr. Ford says.

    “We treat more superficial skin infections such as impetigo for a few days,” he says. “A deeper boil or an abscess may need to be drained and can take up to a few weeks to heal.”

    When staph is serious

    If staph moves deeper into your body, it becomes dangerous and may require a longer course of treatment — or even hospitalization.

    Serious forms of a staph infection include:

    • Endocarditis: Endocarditis occurs when staph enters your bloodstream and attacks your heart. Doctors typically treat it with strong antibiotics. Surgery is sometimes necessary if the infection damages your heart valves.
    • Sepsis: If your infection is severe, it can enter your bloodstream. This is known as sepsis. It can cause fever and dangerously low blood pressure, and is especially dangerous to older adults.

    Some staph bacteria have become resistant to the antibiotics used to treat them. This is known as MRSA, which stands for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus.

    Most MRSA infections are skin infections, but it can also cause more serious infections. The infected wound may require surgical or local drainage. Your doctor likely will prescribe a stronger antibiotic to treat it as well.

    How to avoid a staph infection

    Since staph is all around us, it’s not uncommon for a perfectly healthy person to get a staph infection. The best way to avoid it is to maintain good hygiene, Dr. Ford says.

    • “Wash your hands, particularly after you’ve been working in the soil or working with food products,” he says.
    • “Make sure food is properly prepared, clean and fresh because if your food gets exposed to staph you can get staph-related food poisoning,” he says.
    • If you get a cut on your skin, treat it immediately. Wash it with soap and water, dry your skin and cover it with a bandage.

    If you think you have a staph infection, Dr. Ford suggests bringing it to your doctor’s attention or going to an emergency care center.

    “Staph is sometimes a serious infection if left untreated. So it’s always a good idea to go see your doctor or another health care provider if you’re worried you might have a staph infection,” Dr. Ford says.

    The bacterial infection surfacing in schools and other settings around the country is called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. It is primarily a skin infection, often resembling a pimple, boil or spider bite at its onset. But it quickly worsens into an abscess or pus-filled blister or sore and can become serious if it enters the bloodstream.

    Experts say that patients who have sores that will not heal or that are filled with pus should see a doctor and ask to be tested for staph infection. They should not squeeze the sore or try to drain it — that can spread the infection.

    The vast majority of MRSA cases happen in hospital settings, but 10 percent to 15 percent occur among otherwise healthy people, often those who are prone to cuts and scrapes, like children and athletes. MRSA typically spreads by skin-to-skin contact, crowded conditions and the sharing of contaminated personal items.

    Groups who seem to be at increased risk include those who have regular contact with health care workers, those who have recently taken antibiotics like fluoroquinolones or cephalosporin, military recruits, prisoners and men who have sex with men.

    Recently you may have seen the term MRSA in the news and have wondered what it is. MRSA is an acronym for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a strain of common bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics. Methicillin, an antibiotic of the penicillin class, was formerly used to treat staph infections but is now only used in laboratories to identify antibiotic-resistant strains of staph infection.

    Staphylococcus aureus is found in healthy people, typically on the skin or in nasal passages. Approximately 25 percent to 30 percent of people have some staph bacteria in the nose. For the most part, staph bacteria cause no problems. But about one in 50 people carries MRSA, a strain of staph that is antibiotic-resistant. If such staph bacteria enters a cut, sore, or an area that has been chaffed, such as the entry for a catheter, it can cause infection. And the infection can be serious or even fatal.

    Hospitals tend to have the highest concentrations of MRSA than anywhere else. This is because infected people go to hospitals for treatment, many people are crowded into hospitals, the buildings tend to be warm, there are many invasive procedures, body fluids are commonly spilled, and infection is rapid. Those who visit people in hospitals are at risk since MRSA is easy to catch. But other people who do not visit hospitals can also get MRSA, including those who share items of personal hygiene, such as razors, wash cloths and towels, those who receive tattoos, and members of the military, who often live in close quarters with one another.

    When MRSA infects skin, a swollen, red area develops, and it is usually painful. MRSA skin infections may develop pus or weep other fluids. If left untreated, a MRSA skin infection can go progressively deeper into the body, infecting blood and organs. Symptoms of MRSA infection can include chills, cough, chest pain, fever, fatigue, muscle aches, rashes, shortness of breath and a general feeling of malaise. The worst and final symptom of progressed MRSA infection is death.

    MRSA infections may require surgical intervention and treatment with antibiotics. The problem is that over time, these cagey bacteria have become resistant to almost every single antibiotic available. Reasons for this include the ability of the bacteria to mutate, as well as the gross overuse of antibiotics in meat and dairy production. When we consume meat or dairy products from animals raised on a steady diet of antibiotics, we consume plasmids – little bits of genetic material that carry antibiotic resistance. Then, when we get an infection, the antibiotics don’t work.

    Recently, researchers have been exploring the bacterial riches of the ancient Lechuguilla cave in New Mexico, which contains vast amounts of naturally antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In fact, the bacteria in the cave, which have not been exposed to any antibiotics, appear resistant to virtually every antibiotic known. The scientists are hoping that by studying these germs, they may find clues to dealing with MRSA.

    A handful of drugs currently show activity against MRSA. These include older drugs such as Vancomycin, teicoplanin and fosfomycin, and new MRSA-active antibiotics including quinupristin/dalfopristin, linezolid and daptomycin. The most widely used of these is Vancomycin, which is known as a glycopeptide antibiotic. Taken orally, Vancomycin only works in the intestines to control infection there. For other areas of infection, Vancomycin must be taken via injection. The drug is a rough ride. Symptoms of Vancomycin can include nausea, dizziness, feeling cold, flushing, pain, muscle spasms, bruising, the development of a rash, ringing in the ears, hearing difficulties, and breathing problems.

    Are there natural agents that might help with MRSA? There is some evidence that Amazon bee propolis can be useful in topical cases, though there is no known use of this for internal purposes. Garlic demonstrates anti-MRSA activity, as does oil of Oregano. Otherwise more research is needed in this area. Around the world, researchers are scrambling to find other agents that may act against MRSA, to head off an epidemic.

    MRSA infections are greatly on the increase, and this has health officials worried. A large outbreak of MRSA has the potential to turn into a pandemic, infecting and killing huge numbers of people. If you suspect that you have an infected area, a sore, cut or pimple that is red and swollen and hurts, you would be smart to see a doctor. MRSA infection is a real concern, especially considering that the infection can be fatal. Remember, life is hazardous. Stay alert, and stay alive.

    Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. Chris is the author of 14 books, including Hot Plants, Tales from the Medicine Trail, Kava: Medicine Hunting in Paradise, The Whole Food Bible, Psyche Delicacies, and the international best-selling yoga book, The Five Tibetans. Richard Branson features Chris in his new book, Screw Business as Usual. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at www.MedicineHunter.com.

    Everything You Need to Know About the Superbug MRSA

    Types of MRSA

    There are two types of MRSA infections: healthcare-associated (known as HA-MRSA) and community-associated (CA-MRSA).

    HA-MRSA occurs most often in people who have spent time in a healthcare setting, such as a hospital, nursing home, or dialysis center.

    CA-MRSA is spread by skin-to-skin contact or in crowded conditions. High school and college athletes, as well as people who live in dormitories, prisons, and military barracks, are at higher risk for this type of MRSA infection. (3)

    How Common Is MRSA?

    An estimated 2 percent of the population carries MRSA, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most of these people don’t show any signs of infection at a given time.

    It’s unknown how common MRSA infections are outside of healthcare settings, according to the CDC.

    Fortunately, serious MRSA infections in healthcare settings appear to be on the decline.

    A CDC study found that serious MRSA infections in hospitals dropped by 54 percent between 2005 and 2011, and there were 9,000 fewer deaths in 2011 than in 2005 as a result of MRSA. (1)

    How Is MRSA Spread?

    MRSA can be spread through contact with an infected wound or by sharing personal items, including towels and razors, that have come into contact with an area of infected skin.

    The risk for MRSA infection is greater in any situation that involves skin-to-skin contact or crowded conditions, such as sports, military, and certain school and day care settings. (1)

    The risk factors for acquiring a MRSA infection in a healthcare setting (HA-MRSA) are different from those for an infection in a community setting (CA-MRSA).

    Risk factors for HA-MRSA include:

    Staying in a hospital People with weakened immune systems, including older adults and those recovering from surgery or an illness, are especially vulnerable to MRSA.

    Invasive medical devices Medical tubing, including intravenous (IV) lines and urinary catheters, can provide an entryway for MRSA to enter your body.

    Living in a long-term care facility MRSA is common in nursing homes, where the bacteria can spread from those who carry it to residents with weakened immune systems. (3)

    Risk factors for CA-MRSA include:

    Playing contact sports MRSA spreads easily through skin-to-skin contact in wrestling, football, and other activities, especially if there are cuts or abrasions on the skin.

    Living in crowded or unsanitary conditions MRSA is a particular threat to day care centers, college dorms, military training camps, and prisons.

    Male homosexual activity Men who have sex with men are at higher risk for MRSA infections.

    Injecting illegal drugs Sharing or reusing needles can provide a way for MRSA to enter your body.

    Getting a tattoo If not properly used, tattoo needles can allow MRSA to enter your body.

    Recent illness or surgery Having had the flu recently, or having had surgery in the last year, make your body more susceptible to MRSA infection.

    Recent antibiotic use Your risk of MRSA infection may be greater if you’ve used an antibiotic in the last month.

    History of MRSA infection or contact Your risk of MRSA infection is greater if you’ve had this infection before, or if you have close contact with someone who has. (2,3,4)

    MRSA Symptoms

    The vast majority of people who carry MRSA will never develop symptoms of an infection.

    When an infection does occur, symptoms of CA-MRSA (community settings) tend to be different from those of HA-MRSA (healthcare settings).

    The most common form of CA-MRSA is a skin infection.

    MRSA skin infections are more likely to occur where you already have a cut or skin abrasion, and in areas where there is more body hair. (2)

    The first sign of infection is usually a small bump that is sometimes mistaken for a spider bite. The bump may be:

    • Red
    • Swollen
    • Painful
    • Warm to the touch
    • Filled with pus
    • Accompanied by a fever (1,3)

    If you have skin symptoms typical of MRSA or if you have a fever, schedule an appointment with your doctor immediately.

    In the meantime, keep the area covered with a clean bandage and wash your hands frequently.

    Don’t try to pop or squeeze pus out of your sore. Doing so could make the infection worse. (1)

    Symptoms of HA-MRSA tend to be more severe than those of a typical CA-MRSA skin infection.

    MRSA infections acquired in a healthcare setting may occur in your bloodstream, heart, or lungs, in other organs, or in the area of a recent surgery.

    HA-MRSA symptoms may include:

    • Chest pain
    • Coughing
    • Shortness of breath
    • Fatigue
    • Fever
    • Chills
    • Headache
    • Rash
    • Wound that doesn’t heal (2)

    MRSA Diagnosis

    MRSA infections, like all staph infections, are typically diagnosed from a bacterial cell culture.

    Your doctor will use a cotton swab to take a sample of your skin sore or rash, or from another area, such as your nasal secretions.

    This sample is then sent to a lab, where it’s placed in a dish containing nutrients that encourage bacterial growth for up to 48 hours. After this, the bacteria are tested and identified.

    If your infection is found to be caused by MRSA, further testing will determine which antibiotics can be used to treat it.

    As an alternative to a cell culture, a newer, faster test that detects staph DNA may be used. (2,3)

    MRSA Treatment

    Treatment for MRSA depends on the type of infection and where it’s located.

    If you have a MRSA skin infection, your doctor may need to drain the abscess. This may be the only treatment you need.

    Don’t try to pierce or drain an abscess yourself. It’s vital that the procedure is done correctly, using sterile tools, so that the infection doesn’t get worse or spread to other people. (2)

    Treatment for a MRSA skin infection may also involve taking certain antibiotics, such as:

    For HA-MRSA (acquired in a healthcare setting), your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic. The choice of drug will depend on the location of your infection and your lab results.

    Vancomycin (Vancomin) is widely used to treat HA-MRSA. This drug is typically given intravenously (by IV).

    Other antibiotics that may be used to treat HA-MRSA include those used to treat skin infections, as well as:

    • Daptomycin
    • Ceftaroline
    • Tedizolid
    • Dalbavancin
    • Oritavancin
    • Telavancin
    • Levofloxacin (levaquin)

    Your doctor will decide whether to prescribe an intravenous (IV) or oral antibiotic based on the location and severity of your infection. (5)

    MRSA Complications

    If left untreated, or if an antibiotic used to treat it isn’t effective, a MRSA infection may spread. Such an infection may become life-threatening.

    The infection may spread to your:

    • Bones
    • Joints
    • Blood
    • Lungs
    • Heart valves (3)

    Preventing MRSA

    To prevent the spread of MRSA in healthcare facilities, it’s essential for medical professionals to follow procedures designed to contain any infection. These procedures may include:

    • Wearing protective garments
    • Following strict hand hygiene rules
    • Disinfecting contaminated surfaces
    • Properly washing contaminated laundry (3)

    There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the risk of acquiring a MRSA infection in your community (CA-MRSA):

    • Wash your hands thoroughly after coming into contact with others.
    • Keep any cuts, bites, or sores clean and covered with a bandage.
    • Avoid contact with other people’s cuts, sores, or bandages.
    • Don’t share towels, razors, clothing, or cosmetics.

    Special considerations for athletes to avoid MRSA include:

    • Shower immediately after exercising.
    • If a shower facility isn’t clean, shower at home.
    • Wash your hands before and after sports activities.
    • Use an antiseptic solution to clean shared exercise equipment before using it.
    • Place a towel between your skin and shared exercise equipment.
    • Don’t share or reuse splints or braces. (2)

    Additional reporting by Quinn Phillips.

    What Are the Symptoms of MRSA?

    The symptoms of MRSA infection depend on where you’ve been infected.

    MRSA most often appears as a skin infection, like a boil or abscess. It also might infect a surgical wound. In either case, the area would look:

    • Swollen
    • Red
    • Painful
    • Filled with pus

    Many people who have a staph skin infection often mistake it for a spider bite.

    If staph infects the lungs and causes pneumonia, you will have:

    • Shortness of breath
    • Fever
    • Cough
    • Chills

    MRSA can cause many other symptoms, because once it gets into your bloodstream, MRSA can settle anywhere. It can cause abscess in your spleen, kidney, and spine. It can cause endocarditis (heart valve infections), osteomyelitis (bone infections), joint infections, breast mastitis, and prosthetic device infections. Unlike most MRSA skin infections, which can be treated in the doctor’s office, these other more serious infections will land you in the hospital for intravenous antibiotic therapy.

    Very rarely, staph can result in necrotizing fasciitis, or “flesh-eating” bacterial infections. These are serious skin infections that spread very quickly. While frightening, only a handful of necrotizing fasciitis cases has been reported.

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