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What is a MRSA Superbug?

By Amy Hunter
Updated May 17, 2024
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Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, has long been a problem in the healthcare setting. Recently, the term MRSA superbug has gained popularity because it is being seen more commonly outside hospitals and assisted-living facilities, and is affecting otherwise healthy individuals. The MRSA superbug is resistant to common broad-spectrum antibiotics, and some strains are resistant even to highly targeted antibiotics, such as vancomycin.

Around 30 percent of people have some form of staph bacteria on the skin or in the nose. This does not cause a problem unless the bacteria enters the circulatory system through a cut or other opening. Only about one percent of the population carries the MRSA superbug strain. People that carry this bacteria can be perfectly healthy, but pass the bacteria to others through sharing equipment, towels, or via skin to skin contact.

MRSA superbug infections have attracted attention because of their ability to cause severe illness and even death in young, healthy individuals. While frightening, it is important to realize that the majority of MRSA infections still take place in the hospital. MRSA infections are troubling because they spread quickly, and often do not respond to traditional treatment. If you suspect you have a MRSA infection, visit your healthcare provider for a diagnosis, rather than watching and waiting.

MRSA infections typically appear as a small painful boil, or a series of small red bumps. The infection quickly spreads to an abscess, which may remain on the skin or spread to the bones, bloodstream, or into the joints. Prompt treatment with targeted antibiotics are necessary to treat the infection.

While there is growing concern about MRSA superbug infections in the general population, 85 percent of MRSA infections still occur in a hospital setting, where they are usually spotted quickly by doctors or nurses. There are small clusters of people outside the healthcare setting that are at an increased risk of developing MRSA infections. They include prisoners, children, those in the military, and athletes. Risk factors for acquiring MRSA outside of the hospital setting include increased skin to skin contact, crowded living conditions, cuts or other openings in the skin, and exposure to contaminated equipment.

There are ways to minimize the danger of exposure to MRSA superbugs. Frequent hand washing and application of hand sanitizers, covering cuts and scrapes, avoiding sharing razors, towels, and other personal items, showering after athletic games and practices, and washing workout clothing after each use can all prevent the spread of the MRSA superbug.

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