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What is a MRSA Infection?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) is a strain of the staphylococcus bacteria that has developed drug resistance to all forms of penicillin. MRSA infection is most commonly found in hospitals, and is more likely to occur in patients that have weakened immune systems, as in cases with cystic fibrosis patients. Perfectly healthy people can also have MRSA and may present with infections of the skin, nose, urinary tract or respiratory tract.

MRSA is difficult to treat because the staph is so strong and has evolved into a highly resistant strain. The common treatment is to give vancomycin, another antibiotic. However, the bacteria may be resistant to vancomycin, and is called vancomycin-resistant staphylococci or VISA.

Figuratively, MRSA and VISA are really a part of a pitched battle between medicine and germs. Since MRSA has shown to evolve and become resistant against other forms of antibiotics, new antibiotics are tried. These ultimately lead to strains of staph resistant to newer antibiotics. This is a deadly serious race between the development of new drugs and the evolution of staph bacteria. One of the reasons why doctors now are reluctant to use antibiotics is to keep MRSA infections and other bacterial strains from making the leap forward and becoming even more resistant.

One thing that has proven quite effective in killing MRSA infection before it occurs is ordinary rubbing alcohol. In fact, many hospitals now use alcohol based waterless handwash, as well as regular handwashing in order to prevent passing it on. Sanitizing the area where skin must be broken, as when a nurse or doctor puts in an intravenous line (IV) is also essential.

However, when skin is already broken, too much bacteria may have developed and cannot thus be killed with alcohol. Necrotizing fasciitis or flesh-eating bacteria may result from MRSA in open wounds. In some cases, the only successful treatment is to remove significant tissue around the infected area, which sometimes means amputating an affected limb. Further infection that develops in the lungs or the urinary tract cannot be treated with alcohol.

Some people naturally fight MRSA infection on their own. Some are carriers and have no outward symptoms. While this condition occurs most commonly in hospitals there is concern about it being found in some strange locations; e.g. locker rooms and illegal tattoo parlors. Further, hospital officials worry about such infections occurring in children’s hospitals or wards, and are particularly concerned about MRSA reaching newborns in hospital nurseries.

There is some concern that while MRSA infection is normally passed from skin to skin contact, it might also have some forms that can be inhaled, further increasing risk for patients in hospitals, and for their visitors. It is hard not to be concerned about the future of medical treatment if MRSA continues to evolve.

Treatment of MRSA usually means broad-spectrum antibiotics, and some patients with advanced MRSA may have a higher mortality rate. The best treatment is undoubtedly prevention. Using alcohol handwash in a hospital setting is highly recommended. Further, if you are a patient, it is perfectly acceptable to request a medical worker wash his or her hands prior to touching you. Even if a doctor or nurse has already done so, most will be happy to comply with the request again.

Though MRSA infection is potentially life threatening, it is also still relatively uncommon. To keep infection rates low, medical researchers spend significant time studying MRSA and looking for ways to effectively destroy it without hurting infected patients. Patients who develop MRSA infections tend to be quarantined in a hospital setting.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon145911 — On Jan 25, 2011

How about Bob Beck's blood electrification. 50 micrometers in your blood and you're finished with all bacteria and viruses; it kills them. Give me a break about the supposed 'war between bacteria and antibiotics'. None of them are electrification resistant. Check it out for yourself.

1Th 5:21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

By anon133635 — On Dec 11, 2010

This post is inaccurate as far as saying it is rare. Mrsa has become a major epidemic in hospitals especially with babies. Talk to any pediatrician, nurse, etc. They will tell you they are seeing it every day and recurrences are common. A very scary bug that needs immediate attention and unfortunately as this site explains it is getting difficult to treat. We have to beat this bug.

By bananas — On Mar 12, 2009

In addition to hospitals, MRSA infections are being reported in areas where people congregate and there is no sufficient hygiene, such as homeless areas.

Since the disease can be transmitted from one person to another, keeping cuts in the skin clean, seems to get much more importance.

At the present, March 2009, a conference is being held in Honolulu regarding the Staphylococcus bacteria.

It is an educational symposium of professionals in the field who deal with staphylococcal infections. Since the spread of the disease is on the increase how wise it is that it is taken seriously by the medical profession.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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