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Topics > Healthy Outlook > MRSA a Resistant Skin Infection

MRSA a Resistant Skin Infection

Published by Contra Costa Times

Posted on Wed., Feb. 20, 2008
By Francie Wise, RN, MPH

A YOUNG MAN recently called us about what he thought was a spider bite that wouldn't heal. It was hot, red and swollen. He turned out to have MRSA, a type of dangerous bacteria that is becoming more common.

And school officials have called us with reports of a number of students becoming infected with MRSA, asking us what they should do to prevent it from spreading.

MRSA - called either "mer'-sa" or by the letters M-R-S-A, short for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus - is a particularly troublesome type of staph bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics and can cause aggressive skin and tissue infections.

In the past, people were most likely to be infected with MRSA in the hospital. But more recently people have been getting this infection in community settings such as schools and group housing.

The good news is community-acquired MRSA and staph infections in general are fairly easy to prevent and can be treated.

What are staph and MRSA?

Staph is common bacteria found normally on the skin and in the nose. Staph infections, including MRSA, are a common cause of minor infections such as pimples and boils.

MRSA is much harder to treat because of its resistance to some antibiotics, such as methicillin, a type of penicillin that was developed to treat staph infections. Now, because of the evolution of MRSA, we must use different antibiotics.

What are the symptoms of MRSA?

MRSA skin infections often look like any other infection: a small bite, pimple or scratch that may become red, warm, swollen and painful.

MSRA infections may progress more rapidly than normal staph infections, and they don't respond to most common antistaph antibiotics. A person may be a "carrier" of MRSA in the nose and/or on the skin and not know about it.

How is MRSA spread?

MRSA is spread primarily by direct skin-to-skin human contact or by direct contact with wound drainage. Someone with a break in skin, such as a cut, is at greater risk. MRSA is less commonly spread by touching surfaces such as doorknobs, and is not spread through the air.

How do I know if I have MRSA?

Your health care provider can culture an infection or your nose.

How can I prevent MRSA?

If you or any family members have symptoms as described above, contact your doctor. Treatment is usually unnecessary if you don't have symptoms. The following precautions can help prevent MRSA and other skin infections:

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water frequently.
  • Shower immediately and use a clean towel to dry after close contact sports activities such as basketball or wrestling.
  • Don't share personal items that directly touch the body such as razors, towels, deodorant or soap.
  • Clean and disinfect gym mats and other sports equipment before use.
  • Wash laundry with detergent and hot water. Dry on a hot setting.
  • Avoid contact with other people's wounds or anything contaminated by a wound.
  • Keep sores clean and covered. If assisting with wound care, wear gloves and wash hands with soap and water after assisting.

For information on MRSA, visit the Contra Costa Health Services Web site at

Wise is the director of communicable disease programs and public health nursing for Contra Costa Health Services.

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