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Environmental Public Health Main Menu
Environmental Public Health - Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
Introduction - Click on each link below for more information
- What is MRSA?
- How common is MRSA?
- How is MRSA spread?
- What is Staphylococcus aureus?
- What are the symptoms of a Staph infection?
MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, some strains of which may be resistant to several antibiotics. MRSA behave in the same way as ordinary S. aureus and do not cause different or more serious infections. However, infections with MRSA can be more difficult to treat as we have fewer antibiotics with which to treat them and sometimes suitable antibiotics cannot be swallowed and must be given by injection. For these reasons, there is concern about MRSA in hospitals and patients with MRSA may be isolated in side rooms or special wards, and strict precautions taken to prevent spread to others.
Staphylococcus aureus is a type of bacteria commonly found on the skin or in the nose of healthy individuals. Some Staphylococcus aureus is resistant to certain antibiotics, which makes it more difficult to treat than a normal Staph infection. Methicillin is one of the drugs used to treat S. aureus, hence the name methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is used for the drug resistant strain of the infection.
Staphylococcus aureus bacteria is one of the most common causes of skin infections in the United States. The incidence of MRSA infections is on the rise in Florida and nationwide. In response to this increase, the Florida Department of Health investigates potential outbreaks of MRSA infections and provides education to the public and the healthcare community.
MRSA is most commonly spread among individuals having close physical contact with an infected person, although a person can be colonized with MRSA, show no sign of illness, and still spread the bacteria. An individual can also become infected by touching objects contaminated with MRSA. Objects such as towels, sheets, wound dressings, clothes, and razors can become contaminated from the skin of an infected individual. MRSA is not spread through the air. Contaminated hands play a significant role in spreading the bacteria, either directly person to person or indirectly by contaminating objects.
Staphylococcus aureus is a type of bacterium (or germ) carried in the nose of 20 - 40% of normal healthy people, and is also commonly found on people's skin, usually without causing harm. However, in certain circumstances, particularly when the skin is broken, this germ can cause boils, wounds and other infections. These do not normally spread to other people outside the hospital setting. Hospital patients, however, are more vulnerable to infection with S. aureus because they are unwell or may have surgical wounds.
Staph and MRSA infections are typically minor infections of the skin and can be treated effectively with appropriate skin care and antibiotics to which the organism is susceptible as determined by laboratory testing. MRSA infections can begin as a small pimple/boil, which may progress to a larger pus-filled carbuncle. The carbuncles/boils can spread to other sites on the body if left untreated. Severe disease or death is not common, especially if the infection is treated quickly and appropriately.
Epidemiology is the study of disease outbreaks. Public health professionals cannot work from suppositions, rumors, or guesses. It is a science that deals with facts. Every single infection must be proven to meet the definition of a case. With MRSA, this usually means that only patients that are confirmed by laboratory testing of cultures are actual cases.
If the doctor cures the infection by changing to another antibiotic without sending a culture sample to the laboratory, the patient cannot be considered a confirmed case.
The epidemiologist will follow up every case by interviewing the patient for a history of health and environmental conditions. If environmental conditions are suspected, the epidemiologist requests environmental samples which are then compared to the patient samples. The epidemiology investigation usually drives sample-taking, not the other way around.
In east central Florida, there is no epidemiological link between known MRSA cases and any specific body of water, sport, or profession.
Page last updated: 09/13/11