MRSA, the Staph Superbug

What is MRSA?

MRSA is a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to methicillin, an anti-staph antibiotic. MRSA is a particularly virulent strain that can cause a life threatening infection, especially in frail or immunocompromised patients. It is more common than we thought; data from the CDC showed that there were about 94,000 cases of MRSA in the US in 2005 with over 18,000 deaths, more than from AIDS.

How do people get MRSA?

It can be acquired from a hospital, nursing facility, or other healthcare office. In these settings it is referred to as hospital-acquired MRSA. It afflicts elderly or ill patients and often enters the body where the skin has been compromised, such as a surgical wound or IV site.

MRSA can also infect healthy children and adults. For instance, it can be contracted from contaminated locker rooms, equipment, and spas, as well as from contact sports. It is this community-acquired MRSA that has been getting all the press lately, especially after the tragic death of a 17 year old high school girl in Virginia.

How do I know if I am infected?

An MRSA infection is indistinguishable from other staph infections. It commonly starts as a painful pustule that people mistakenly attribute to a spider bite. Poor spiders get a bad rap; unless you actually see a spider bite you, it’s probably not a spider bite. You could have an MRSA skin infection if you have:

  • Red, painful pustules that can look like inflamed acne bumps
  • Nonhealing wounds or wounds draining pus
  • Inflamed boils which can range from pea sized to as large as an orange
  • Fever, chills, or night sweats and a skin wound as described above
  • Young children could also have honey colored crusted scabs, especially around the nose and mouth

If you suspect you are infected, you should see a physician as soon as possible. Distinguishing an MRSA infection from other infections can only be done by culturing bacteria from the wound.