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Community-Acquired Methicillin-Resistant Staph aureus (MRSA)

A Superbug that Found Among Athletes, Students, and Military Recruits

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Updated January 13, 2009

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is a potentially deadly strain of Staph aureus that is resistant to several antibiotics. Previously associated with healthcare exposure, this superbug now also accounts for a growing amount of infections acquired among athletes, students, and the military without necessary healthcare exposure. Such strains of MRSA are known as Community Acquired MRSA (CA-MRSA). Fortunately, its spread can be limited with good hygiene practices.

Species Name: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus

Type of Microbe: Gram-positive bacteria

How it spreads: Community-associated MRSA occurs in otherwise healthy people who have not recently been hospitalized or had medical procedures. These infections are spread through close skin-to-skin contact, skin wounds, such as cuts and scrapes, crowded living conditions, and poor hygiene.

Who’s at risk? All people may get infected, but infection risks are greater in schools, dormitories, military barracks, households, correctional facilities, and daycare centers. Among athletes, MRSA is more common in high-physical-contact sports, such as wrestling, football, and rugby. Additionally, men who have sex with men may be at increased risk as well. Although most MRSA infections are healthcare-associated, approximately 12% to 14% are community-associated.

Symptoms: CA-MRSA usually manifests itself as a skin infection that appears as a red, swollen, painful area on the skin. It can also take on the form of an abscess, boil, or pus-filled lesion, and may be accompanied by fever and warmth around the infected area. These infections often occur at sites of cuts or scrapes in the skin, as well as in areas of the body covered with hair.

Diagnosis: Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may recommend tests, such as skin culture or drainage from the infection to diagnose MRSA.

Prognosis: Serious MRSA infections can lead to infections in the blood (bacteremia), the skin (cellulitis), heart infections (endocarditis), lung (pneumonia), and bone (osteomyelitis) and toxic shock syndrome, to name a few. Failure to treat MRSA can result in organ failure and death.

Treatment: Some Staph skin infections can be treated by drainage of the sore, but this procedure should only be done by a healthcare provider. Most MRSA infections are treatable with antibiotics (such as clindamycin, linezolid, tetracycline, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, or vancomycin). But it is important to complete the entire course of treatment, even if the infection appears to be getting better. Failure to follow doctor’s orders can result in complications and failure to wipe out the infection. For more serious infections that require hospitalization, treatment may include kidney dialysis, intravenous fluids and medications, and oxygen.

Prevention: Frequent hand washing and personal hygiene, cleaning and covering of cuts and scrapes, and wiping shared athletic equipment are good ways to prevent CA-MRSA. Also, keep personal items including nail clippers, razors and towels to yourself, and avoid sharing whirlpools and saunas with individuals who have open sores. Athletes should shower immediately after exercise, and wash and dry their uniforms after each use.

How it causes disease: Staph aureus causes an array of diseases, and it is believed that each disease manifestation depends on many different factors. In general, Staph aureus sticks to different kinds of tissue within the body and can evade the immune response. For example, it makes proteins that interfere with and destroy white blood cells during an immune response.

Many symptoms of Staph aureus infections occur as a result of tissue destruction by bacterial enzymes. For example, Staph aureus produces toxins, known as superantigens, that can induce septic shock.

Sources:

Community-Associated MRSA Information for the Public. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Healthcare-Associated Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (HA-MRSA). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

MRSA. Medical Encyclopedia. MedlinePlus. US National Library of Medicine and National Institute of Health.

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