By Bryan Silver
Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, commonly referred to as MRSA, is an infection caused by a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to many of the antibiotics used to treat ordinary staph outbreaks. The danger here is obvious, as the resulting infection is often difficult to control and can quickly become life-threatening.
As with most skin infections, MRSA usually starts as a swollen, painful red area that is warm to the touch. Often such infections will look like a common pimple or even a spider bite, but they can grow into something far worse in a very short period of time. The bacteria will start to penetrate deeper into the skin, creating a deep and painful abscess that needs to be drained and treated by a medical professional before it can heal. If the bacteria finds its way deeper into the body, it can then begin to infect bones, joints, the blood-stream and other bodily organs.
How Is MRSA Different from Other Infections?
First, it’s important to understand that we commonly use the term “staph” infection to refer to contamination by any one of several varieties of staphylococcus aureus. In fact, some form of staph bacteria can be found on the skin and in the noses of about 30 percent of the population. Generally, the bacteria is harmless until it finds its way into a cut or wound—even then, it will most likely cause minor and easily treatable symptoms within the tissues of a healthy individual.
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The problem is that, modern medicine has often overtreated infections of all sorts with the prescribing of antibiotics. For years, this misuse has led to the development of drug-resistant bacteria. These resistant strains are not only hard to combat, but they often multiply and spread quickly—a combination that can be quite serious if not caught early.
What Are the Ways a Person Can Be Exposed to MRSA?
While a large portion of the population is walking around with staphylococcus aureus on their bodies at any given time, it’s important to note that only two percent of the population is believed to be chronic carriers of the more deadly variety known as MRSA.
Most of the time, MRSA infections occur in hospitals and other health care facilities. The concentration of individuals, caregivers going from patient to patient, old or sick individuals with weakened immune systems and the prevalence of wounds, sores and invasive surgeries provide the perfect climate for such bacteria to thrive. While most medical environments work hard to keep their areas clean and sterile, pathogens do get passed on.
Another way individuals can get a MRSA infection is simply through contact with other people. While rarer than the infections that occur in healthcare settings, healthy people can develop MRSA through close, skin-to-skin contact. Often seen in athletes, those who work with children and people living in crowded conditions, this form of MRSA usually starts out as a benign-looking boil that quickly turns into an extremely painful, pus-filled abscess.
Know the Signs of a Staph Infection
The best protection against a MRSA infection is early detection, so it’s good for everyone to know the signs. Remember that only a doctor will be able to tell you if your infection is caused by the MRSA bacteria as opposed to a more common variety of staphylococcus, so take any sign of a staph infection seriously until you know for sure.
Skin-based symptoms. Most likely the first signs you’ll see will be on the skin. A staph infection might initially be seen as a sore, rash, or blister that could be accompanied by discharge or pus.
» Boils are a very common symptom of staph infections. The area will often be red, swollen and filled with pus
» Impetigo is a contagious rash that is characterized by large blisters on the skin.
» Cellulitis will appear as a red or swollen area with the source of infection seeming to be under the skin. Sores can appear around the affected area and even emit a discharge
Signs of systemic infection. When staph bacteria makes it into your bloodstream, the resulting condition is called bacteremia. The fact that the infection is now free to travel to other parts of the body through the blood makes this a very serious condition.
» Fever in conjunction with signs of a staph infection could indicate bacteremia
» Low blood pressure is usually present when bacteremia exists in the body
Presence of toxic shock syndrome. When staph bacteria has been present in the body for a long enough period of time, a life-threatening condition can develop called toxic shock syndrome. If any of these symptoms accompany a staph infection, seek immediate medical treatment.
» A high fever, usually in excess of 103 degrees for adults
» Muscle soreness
» Abdominal pain»Nausea»Vomiting
How to Prevent the Spread of Common Staph Infections
Keep things clean. Hand washing is the best preventative measure for reducing the chance of contracting a staph infection. Hand sanitizers can also be effective, but only if they contain at least 62 percent alcohol.
Keep wounds covered. Staph bacteria is not only present on some people’s skin, but it’s rarely a problem unless it finds a way into the body. Cuts, scrapes and other wounds should always be covered by a dry, sterile bandage until completely healed.
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Keep things to yourself. When you share personal items, you put yourself at risk for staph infections. Easily spread, the bacteria can be transferred by both objects and skin-to-skin contact. If you must share, make sure items are thoroughly cleaned first with an appropriate disinfectant.
They say that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and it’s something to keep in mind when talking about MRSA. By simply following a few rules, you can prevent the majority of staph infections—and by knowing some of the key signs of an infection, you’ll be able to recognize a serious situation and react appropriately. Ultimately, you should remember this; if you even suspect you might be suffering from a MRSA infection, you should see a doctor immediately.
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