MRSA Research Center

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Frequently Asked Questions about MRSA

NOTE: Questions and answers 1-8 were adapted from information on cdc.gov. Questions 9-25 were those submitted to the MRSA Research Center via email.

  1. What is Staphylococcus aureus ("staph")?

    Staphylococcus aureus, often referred to simply as, "staph," are bacteria commonly carried on the skin or in the nose of healthy people.  Approximately 25% to 30% of the population is colonized (when bacteria are present, but not causing an infection) in the nose with staph bacteria.  Sometimes, staph can cause an infection.  Staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infections in the United States.  Most of these skin infections are minor (such as pimples and boils) and can be treated without antibiotics (also known as antimicrobials or antibacterials).  However, staph bacteria also can cause serious infections (such as surgical wound infections, bloodstream infections, and pneumonia).

  2. What is MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)?

    Some staph bacteria are resistant to antibiotics.  MRSA is a type of staph that is resistant to antibiotics called beta-lactams.  Beta-lactam antibiotics include methicillin and other more common antibiotics such as oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin.  While 25% to 30% of the population is colonized with staph, approximately 1% is colonized with MRSA.

  3. What is community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA)?

    Staph and MRSA can cause illness in persons outside of hospitals and healthcare facilities.  MRSA infections that are acquired by persons who have not been recently hospitalized or had a medical procedure (such as dialysis, surgery, catheters) are known as CA-MRSA infections.  Staph or MRSA infections in the community are usually manifested as skin infections, such as pimples and boils, and occur in otherwise healthy people.

  4. How common are staph and MRSA infections?

    Staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infection in the United States and are a common cause of pneumonia, surgical wound infections, and bloodstream infections.  The majority of MRSA infections occur among patients in hospitals or other healthcare settings; however, it is becoming more common in the community setting.

  5. What does a staph or MRSA infection look like?

    Staph bacteria, including MRSA, can cause skin infections that may look like a pimple or boil and can be red, swollen, painful, or have pus or other drainage.  More serious infections may cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections, or surgical wound infections.

  6. How can I prevent staph or MRSA skin infections?

    Practice good hygiene:
    • Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
    • Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed.
    • Avoid contact with other people’s wounds or bandages.
    • Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, washcloths, razors, bars of soap, nail clippers, clothing, uniforms, and sheets.
  7. What should I do if I think I have a staph or MRSA infection?

    See your healthcare provider.  This may include seeing an Adult Infectious Disease specialist and/or Pediatric Infectious Disease specialist, depending on the age of the patient.

  8. If I have a staph, or MRSA, skin infection, what can I do to prevent others from getting infected?

    You can prevent spreading staph or MRSA skin infections to others by following these steps:
    • Cover your wound. Keep wounds that are draining or have pus covered with clean, dry bandages until healed.  Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions on proper care of the wound.  Pus from infected wounds can contain staph, including MRSA, so keeping the infection covered will help prevent the spread to others.  Bandages and tape can be discarded in the regular trash.
    • Clean your hands. You, your family, and others in close contact should wash their hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after changing the bandage or touching the infected wound.
    • Do not share personal items. Avoid sharing personal items (such as towels, washcloths, razors, bars of soap, nail clippers, clothing, uniforms, and sheets) that may have had contact with the infected wound or bandage.  Wash sheets, towels, and clothes that become soiled with water and laundry detergent.  Use a dryer to dry clothes completely.
    • Talk to your doctor. Tell any healthcare providers who treat you that you have or had a staph or MRSA skin infection.
  9. What are the most important things one can do to prevent a MRSA infection (besides hand hygiene)?

    See response to Question #8.

  10. What are some common risk factors that might make one more susceptible to a MRSA infection (for example, playing sports, engaging in outdoor activities, working in a retail setting, getting cuts and bruises, having eczema)?

    Any staph infections are more common among patients with certain skin disorders, such as eczema.  Outbreaks of MRSA have been reported among healthy athletes, people in jails and prisons, and in military barracks.  It is not known for certain if these groups always have a higher risk of MRSA infections.  Children have a higher rate of MRSA infection in the community than adults.

  11. How long does a person who has a MRSA infection stay infected?

    Generally, someone who has a MRSA infection stays infected for just under 10 days if they are treated by a doctor although many factors are involved and this duration can vary from person to person.

  12. Can you get a MRSA infection from contaminated water (for example, water on the roadside)?

    Humans are the primary reservoir for MRSA.  It is unlikely that a person can contract a MRSA infection from drinking or other exposure to water although this question has not been studied carefully.  It is not known if people can become colonized with MRSA from water sources.

  13. Is it possible for a person to have an infection on the face and then a month later cut their hand and have a MRSA infection on the hand in which they cut?

    It is possible to develop a recurrent MRSA infection at some point in the future after having had a MRSA infection at a different site on your body.  There is some evidence that a patient who has a community-type MRSA infection is more likely to have a recurrent skin infection than a patient who had a non-MRSA staph infection.

  14. What are the "ideal" environments/conditions for MRSA to grow?

    A temperature of 35 °C (or 95°F) is ideal for staph to grow.

  15. Are there any sorts of herbal preparations that would promote wound healing for someone with a confirmed diagnosis of MRSA (for example, Manuka honey, silver gauze)?

    It is unknown how herbal preparations affect a MRSA infection.

  16. What household cleaning products are best to clean surfaces that might be contaminated with MRSA?

    Household cleaners containing bleach or quaternary ammonia compounds kill MRSA, but how best to apply them to surfaces and objects have not been studied.

  17. Should people with confirmed MRSA diagnoses be quarantined (for example, stay home from school or work, avoid attending social activities, avoid having people come to my home)?

    This is not recommended.  The most important precaution to consider is to keep any sores well bandaged, to avoid any exposure to others of dirty bandages or pus from infected skin lesions, and to wash hands regularly with soap or an alcohol-containing  hand sanitizer.  It is recommended that athletes do not engage in competition until their skin sores are healed.

  18. What are rapid diagnostic tests that can be used to confirm MRSA infection?

    The best test is a bacterial culture.  Pus is taken from skin sores and rubbed onto agar (a stiff gelatin-like substance in petri dishes).  If bacteria are present, they will grow.  Then chemical tests are done to see if MRSA is present.  This type of testing, called a bacterial culture, takes about 2-5 days to perform.

  19. Why does someone who had a MRSA infection previously get this repeatedly?  Does it mutate?  Is it the same strain infecting this person repeatedly?

    This is not known.

  20. What is the optimal regimen for MRSA treatment (for example, TMP-SMX, Septra, etc.,)?  Is it important to see an infectious disease specialist or should I see my regular physician to treat my MRSA infection?

    There is no simple, one-size-fits-all answer to this question.  The answer depends on the location and the size of the infected area.  For small skin sores, primary care doctors can probably choose a good therapy.  Testing of the bacteria will determine which antibiotics would be likely to work in treating a skin sore.  Some small skin sores do not require antibiotics; there is disagreement among doctors about which sores can be treated just by draining them.  We are engaged in a large study to help doctors choose the best way to approach these small skin sores.  Many strains of MRSA in the community in the U.S. can be treated with clindamycin, but there are some MRSA strains that are resistant to this drug.   There are a number of other drugs that have been used to treat MRSA, including doxycycline, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (TMP-SMX), and linezolid.  It is difficult to generalize about which drug should be used.  For patients with life-threatening or recurrent MRSA infections, obtaining the opinion of an infectious disease specialist or another physician who has extensive experience with treating MRSA would be recommended.

  21. Can you get MRSA by eating meat from an animal that had a MRSA infection?

    Cooking meat thoroughly is known to kill MRSA.  There have been no cases known to us that have been reported of people developing a MRSA infection from eating meat.

  22. Is there a special kind of doctor who is specifically trained to treat someone who has a MRSA infection?

    An infectious diseases specialist in a geographic region in which MRSA is common.

  23. It’s too late and we feel hopeless about ever ridding ourselves of MRSA in our home.  We’ve turned to medical experts and it just keeps getting worse.  Is there any other advice you might offer us?  Can you refer us to someone who can help us?

    See an infectious diseases specialist who has focused on MRSA disease.

  24. I want to work as a student, get a fellowship or become a part of your team.  Whom do I talk to?

    If you are interested in a Pediatric Infectious Disease Fellowship under the direction of Dr. Robert S. Daum, Principal Investigators of the MRSA Research Center, please contact:

    Rasika Ranganathan
    Program Manager
    University of Chicago Medical Center
    Department of Pediatrics
    Infectious Diseases Section
    5841 South Maryland Avenue, MC 6054
    Chicago, IL  60637
    773.702.2367 direct
    rrangana@bsd.uchicago.edu

    If you are a pediatrician (Medical Doctor) and interested in a graduate program in Microbiology, please contact:

    Alecia Rose
    Graduate Studies
    The University of Chicago Medical Center
    Biological Sciences Division
    Department of Microbiology
    920 East 58th Street, CLSC 1117
    Chicago, IL 60637
    773.834.3550 phone
    arose@bsd.uchicago.edu
    http://microbiology.uchicago.edu/

    If you are interested in possible employment at the MRSA Research Center, please contact:

    Rasika Ranganathan
    Program Manager
    University of Chicago Medical Center
    Department of Pediatrics
    Infectious Diseases Section
    5841 South Maryland Avenue, MC 6054
    Chicago, IL  60637
    773.702.2367 direct
    rrangana@bsd.uchicago.edu

  25. What is the best way for someone who has a real interest in MRSA research to help (donations, surveys, etc.)?

    If you would like to make a financial gift to the MRSA Research Center, please visit:
    http://mrsa-research-center.bsd.uchicago.edu/give.html.

    If you would like to be considered for possible participation in a MRSA Research Center research study, please contact:

    Rasika Ranganathan
    Program Manager
    University of Chicago Medical Center
    Department of Pediatrics
    Infectious Diseases Section
    5841 South Maryland Avenue, MC 6054
    Chicago, IL  60637
    773.702.2367 direct
    rrangana@bsd.uchicago.edu