MRSA Symptoms, Facts, Risk And Prevention

MRSA stands for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus; it is a bacteria that has become known as a ‘superbug’ in recent years, and is highly resistant to antibiotics. It is transmitted between patients by contact with the skin or clothing of an infected person, and can also be contracted by coming into contact with a particular area where the sufferer has been. There are many strains of MRSA, and it is often associated with hospitals and other medical institutions. In this article we will examine the common MRSA symptoms, what it is, the causes of MRSA and the treatment methods used, as well as taking a more detailed look at prevention methods. Let’s begin by outlining the symptoms of MRSA that you should be aware of.


MRSA manifests in the form of skin infections in the first place, and the following are the symptoms you should be looking for if you want to catch it at an early stage:

Any unusual and noticeable skin infections should always be investigated. It is important to understand that, while MRSA begins as a skin infection, it spreads easily to other parts of the body; in fact, it can affect just about any of the vital organs. Symptoms at this stage may include:

  • Fever and chills
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Low blood pressure
  • Pains in the joints

Any of the above can also be symptomatic of a number of illnesses, and should always be investigated.


Before we go on, let’s have a look at a few useful MRSA facts:

  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is a highly resistant bacteria that is surprisingly common
  • There are two main types of MRSA: CA-MRSA which stands for ‘community or commonly acquired’ and HA-MRSA, meaning ‘hospital acquired’; the first type is not associated with a health care issue, the second is acquired in a hospital or other health care institute. There is a third type, Epidemic MRSA, which is far less common.
  • MRSA can be transmitted from the skin or clothing of an infected person, or by contact with chairs, benches, other furniture and utensils that have been used by one.
  • MRSA is resistant to multiple antibiotics.
  • The best prevention method is attention to personal hygiene.

What Is MRSA?

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is a bacteria that causes skin irritation and infection. It has been known since the 1960’s, yet in recent years instances have become much more commonplace. Methicillin, a common antibiotic used in many instances, was proven to be useless against the MRSA bacteria, and it has since evolved to become resistant to many more of the most advances antibiotics we know of. It is important to explain that MRSA is not a virus; it is a bacterial infection. It is a common bacteria that occurs across the world, and it is very difficult to estimate the numbers of people who have died from complications brought about by MRSA.


The cause of MRSA is the bacteria itself, and being so commonplace it is not difficult to contract. As we have already mentioned, it is entirely possible to contract the bacteria by touching someone who is already infected, by coming into contact with their clothing, or even by sitting on a chair or using a utensil that they have used. This super-resilient bacteria is found in hospitals where infected people have been, and there have been attempts to increase the hygiene rules in hospital wards in order to keep the infection at bay. If you know someone who is a patient with MRSA, avoid direct contact until the bug has cleared.

Risk Factors

The risk of catching MRSA is higher in some people than in others: hospital staff and care workers are at the top of the table, as they may unwittingly come into contact with infected persons. It is by this method that many cases of multiple MRSA patients come about, as one infects one person, who goes on to affect another, and so on. Healthy people who are not suffering from cuts, bruises or skin infections stand less chance of contracting the MRSA bacteria, but it is still possible. This is why it is vital that an effective personal hygiene regime is adhered to.


Diagnosis of MRSA begins with a general examination of the patient, following which skin samples and other material suitable for a biopsy – such as pus from a boil or abscess, or blood samples – will be sent to a laboratory for examination. The method used is to grow the bacteria in the lab, with specific attention to cultivating the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Once grown, the bacteria are subjected to methicillin; if the bacteria grows well within the methicillin then it is a clear case of MRSA, and the patient is diagnosed as a sufferer. Great care is taken during the procedure as some MRSA symptoms can be very similar to those seen in victims of spider bites and Lyme disease, hence mis-diagnosis needs to be avoided.


Treatment of MRSA takes two basic forms: the first is to drain any boils or abscesses of the pus within, and the second is to find an antibiotic that works against the MRSA. As we have said, the bacteria is highly resistant to most antibiotics, but tests can often find one that works. The most commonly successful antibiotic is vancomycin, and this is often administered in conjunction with linezolid. These can be successful in treating MRSA. The severity of the case will determine the method of administering the drug, with intravenous methods being necessary or some of the more severe cases. Usually a laboratory analysis is used (see above, regarding the growing of a culture) to determine the resistance of a particular strain of MRSA to the antibiotics, and there are cases of vancomycin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (VRMA) coming to light as the bacteria evolves to evade the drug.


The prevention of MRSA is important, and a sensible approach to personal hygiene can go a long way to minimising the risk of infection by the bacteria. Here are some important tips:

  • Avoid direct contact with known patients, their clothes and their direct environment
  • Treat and protect any cuts or bruises properly
  • Wash hands with soap and water after contact with others, and use antiseptic wipes where possible
  • In hospitals, use the antiseptic wash facilities when entering or leaving a ward
  • Keep a rigorous hygiene regime at all times

With MRSA being so easy to spread it is essential that the above instructions are followed.


Estimates have put the mortality rate in MRSA patients at somewhere between four and 10%; the numbers of patients suffering from the infection ranks at millions at any one time across the world. The major problem comes when a patient suffers from complications brought about by the bacteria, and this is more commonplace in HA-MRSA patients that in those with CA-MRSA. When the bacteria attacks the organs – and it can be found in any organ in the body – it can cause a number of potentially fatal problems, including: endocarditis, kidney and lung infections, necrotizing faciitis, sepsis, and many more diseases of the organs. This is why it is vital that early diagnosis is made.

MRSA And Pregnancy

It is absolutely essential that pregnant women consult their doctor should they suspect they have MRSA, or if they are known carriers of the infection. The bacteria is not transmitted by bacteria, but it can be transferred from mother to child by contact. Such cases, however, are quite rare. There are certain creams that can be used by pregnant women to help with the skin infection, and a doctor will help you find the right one.

What Does an MRSA Infection Looks Like?

To help you recognise MRSA infected skin, take a look at those example pictures:

MRSA On Neck

MRSA On Neck

MRSA On Shoulder

MRSA On Shoulder



Should you recognise such lesions or infections on your skin, seek medical help immediately.

If a Family Member Has MRSA Does This Mean You Will Get It Too?

Not necessarily; the bacteria is transmitted, as we have explained, by direct contact – not only with the patient but with belongings, furnishing and utensils they use. It is not in any way a genetic infection. However, it is therefore clear that anybody sharing a home with an infected patient stands a greater chance of infection, and the hygiene routine described earlier needs to be adhered to more strictly than is usual.

How Contagious Is MRSA?

MRSA is quite easy to become infected with if you are in contact with a sufferer – either as a care worker or a family member – and, as above, anyone who is aware of such should follow the instructions described earlier and avoid direct contact if at all possible. We repeat, MRSA is not a virus, and does not transfer by airborne means; it needs actual contact to become an infection.

We hope that, within this article, we have managed to describe the symptoms of MRSA, how it comes about, the methods of treatment and the general prognosis, as well as offering you useful advice on how to minimise the risk of becoming infected with MRSA.

Written By Suzan Harding

Dr Harding studied at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, and joined the research department at the hospital after finishing her degree in pathology. Dr Harding has travelled widely and spent a number of years in Europe, before heading to the USA to continue her in-depth studies in microbiology.


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