Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has become a concern in the hospital environment, but what about the community?
Staphylococcus aureus, or simply "staph," is a common bacterium that healthy people carry on their skin and nose. Staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infection in the U.S. and are a common cause of surgical wound infections, bloodstream infections and even pneumonia.
In the past, the majority of MRSA infections occur among patients in healthcare or hospitalized settings. However, it is becoming more common for MRSA to appear in the community in populations that have had no contact with hospitals or medical procedures.
Approximately 25 to 30 percent of the population is colonized with staph, however, only 1 percent of the population is colonized with MRSA. Colonization means bacteria are present in or on the body, but don't cause disease. Staph is a common cause of skin infections and can often be treated with antibiotics. MRSA is a type of staph that is resistant to antibiotics, which include methicillin, penicillin and amoxicillin and other antibiotics.
Community-associated MRSA usually shows up as skin infections, such as boils, pimples, or "spider bites" of unknown origin and occur in otherwise healthy people. MRSA can be spread through openings in the skin such as cuts or abrasions, close skin-to-skin contact, poor hygiene, crowded living conditions and contaminated surfaces and items.
People with low immune systems may be at risk for more severe illness if infected with MRSA. To diagnose this type of staph infection, a culture or biopsy of the affected area is taken.
MRSA infections are treatable conditions, but it is important to follow your healthcare provider's directions to care for the wounds. The following steps are important to take in the treatment of suspected or confirmed staph or MRSA infections:
If prescribed medication, patients should take it exactly as directed and contact their physician if they have any possible side effects.
If there is worsening of the condition at any point such as increased pain, redness, swelling or fever, individuals should contact their physician.
MRSA can recur after treatment, so it is important to know the steps to take to reduce infections. Follow these steps:
Keep the wound covered and/or bandaged until it is no longer red or sore and for as long as it drains or oozes fluids.
Personal items should not be shared, i.e., towels, clothes, washcloths, razors, etc.
Individuals should wash hands frequently and bathe daily. Hands can infect other areas of the body with bacteria, especially when scratching. It's a good idea to carry waterless hand cleanser in a pocket or purse to use during the day.
Clean sports equipment or items that come in contact with others after each use using a bleach solution (1 tsp. bleach per gallon of water).
Drying clothes in a hot dryer helps kill bacteria. Launder current clothes, towels and sheets frequently, until there is no longer a bandage over the wound.
For more information on community-associated MRSA, contact your healthcare provider.
Mark Lacy, M.D., is an Infectious Disease physician at Flagstaff Medical Center. Dr. Lacy wrote this article in cooperation with Heather Bates, B.S.N., R.N., C.W.C.N., C.C.C.N., a wound and ostomy nurse.
Is there a health topic you'd like to know more about? Please write to Mountain Medicine, c/o Flagstaff Medical Center, Public Relations, 1200 North Beaver Street, Flagstaff, AZ 86001, or visit FMC's Web site at FlagstaffMedicalCenter.com. For more information, see your physician.