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Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA)

What is staph?

Staphylococcus aureus, often referred to as staph, is a common bacteria found on the skin or in the nose of 25% to 30% of the population. This usually is not a problem, but staph can cause infection. In healthy individuals, staph is a common cause of typically minor skin infections characterized by pustules or boils. Serious conditions such as bloodstream infections, pneumonia, and surgical wound infections are rare and are usually acquired in hospitals and other healthcare settings.

What is MRSA?

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA is a strain of staph that is resistant to antibiotics called beta-lactams. These include methicillin, oxacillin, penicillin, and amoxicillin. Antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria arise with the overuse of antibiotics. Bacteria grow extremely rapidly and in doing so produce spontaneous mutations (slight differences in their genes). Because of this, it is possible for a small number of bacteria that are resistant to an antibiotic to survive. After a while, these bacteria can grow and thrive in an environment where antibiotics are in use. That is the case with MRSA. Approximately 1% of the population is colonized with MRSA.

How are staph and MRSA infections acquired?

Staph infections, including MRSA infections, are mostly acquired by skin-to-skin contact. Infections can also be acquired by coming into contact with an object that has touched someone else’s infection, such as a used towel. Skin infections commonly occur at sites of visible skin trauma, such as cuts and abrasions. In addition, shaving can cause micro-abrasions that are susceptible to infection.

Where are staph and MRSA infections acquired?

Most staph and MRSA infections are healthcare-associated, occurring in hospitals, dialysis centers, and nursing homes where people have weakened immune systems. Staph infections are also considered to be healthcare-associated if they occur in individuals who have been hospitalized or have had a medical procedure (such as dialysis, surgery, or catheters) within the past year.

Staph and MRSA infections are also found outside of healthcare settings and in people who have not recently been hospitalized or had a medical procedure. These staph infections are referred to as community-associated. The number of community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) cases has been on the rise, and data from 2003 suggests that 12% of MRSA cases are community-associated.

Community-associated staph and MRSA infections can be acquired anywhere. However, they are more likely to be acquired in settings where there can be close physical contact such as in schools, dormitories, military barracks, households, correctional facilities, and daycare centers.

What conditions make acquiring a staph or MRSA infection more likely?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the five C’s that facilitate transmission include:

  • Crowding
  • Frequent skin-to-skin Contact
  • Compromised skin (i.e., cuts or abrasions)
  • Contaminated items and surfaces
  • Lack of Cleanliness.

How can I personally prevent a staph or MRSA infection?

  • Keep cuts and abrasions covered until they heal.
  • Avoid contact with other peoples’ wounds or bandages.
  • Do not share items such as towels, razors, clothing, or personal protective equipment.
  • Wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer often.
  • Keep frequently touched surfaces clean.
  • Wipe health club equipment before and after use.

How can I tell if I have a staph or MRSA infection?

Staph and MRSA infections of the skin may look like a pimple or boil. They can be red, swollen, painful, or have pus or other drainage. If you think you have a staph infection, it is important to see your healthcare provider.

Are staph and MRSA infections treatable?

Staph and MRSA infections can be treated. Abscesses or boils may need draining. In some cases, antibiotics may be required. If you have a staph infection, carefully follow the instructions of your healthcare provider and notify him or her if your condition does not improve after a few days.

Should people with staph or MRSA go to work?

Unless your doctor has instructed you not to go to work, there is no reason not to do so. Infected people who do go to work must maintain good hygiene practices. People with active infections should be excluded from activities where there would likely be skin-to-skin contact.

If I have a staph or MRSA infection, how can I prevent it from spreading?

  • Keep the wound covered with clean, dry bandages.
  • Wash your hands frequently or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Do not share personal items that could have come in contact with the infection, such as towels, razors, or personal protective equipment.
  • Tell any healthcare providers who are treating you of any current or past staph infections.
  • Wash clothing or other items that may have come into contact with staph with detergent and hot water and dry in a hot clothes dryer.
  • Clean contaminated equipment and surfaces with detergent-based cleaners or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registered disinfectants. For safe and effective use, be sure to read the labels and follow instructions. A list of EPA-registered products effective against MRSA can be found at epa.gov/oppad001/chemregindex.htm.

What can an employer do to help prevent the spread of staph or MRSA in the workplace?

  • Encourage workers to practice good hygiene.
  • Provide adequate facilities and supplies for workers to practice good hygiene.
  • Make sure that the workplace is kept clean.
  • Ensure that contaminated surfaces are cleaned appropriately.

What is invasive MRSA?

Invasive MRSA includes serious MRSA infections, such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections, and surgical wound infections. Of the 94,000 cases of invasive MRSA in the U.S. in 2005, almost 19,000 people died. While most of these cases were healthcare associated, 14% were community associated.

Where can I find more information?

More information on staph and MRSA is available at www.cdc.gov


The above evaluations and/or recommendations are for general guidance only and should not be relied upon for legal compliance purposes. They are based solely on the information provided to us and relate only to those conditions specifically discussed. We do not make any warranty, expressed or implied, that your workplace is safe or healthful or that it complies with all laws, regulations or standards.

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