Answers to commonly asked questions about MRSA skin infections in schools (from the U.S. Department of Education).
Most people have heard of terms like “staph infection,” “antibiotic resistant bacteria,” and “MRSA” (pronounced mersa). Staphylococcal bacteria often referred to as “staph” are commonly occurring bacteria found on the skin and in the noses of all people. Most staphylococcal species never cause infection. However, when infection does occur due to staph, Staphylococcus aureus—one of these species of staph—is usually the cause. While all people have some staphylococcus species on their skin and in their noses, only one in every three or four people have S. aureus. Even if they have S. aureus on their skin or in their noses, most people are not ill. These people who have bacteria but are not ill are called “carriers”. S. aureus carriers do not have staph infections.
When staph does cause infections, it may cause minor skin or soft tissue infections, such as boils or impetigo, which occur spontaneously without an obvious source of infection. Persons with staph skin infections may complain of an “infected pimple,” “an insect bite,” “spiders bite,” or “a sore.” Many staph infections cause minor redness and swelling without pain, and infected persons may not seek medical attention. However, staph infections can cause more serious, sometimes deadly, infections such as abscesses, pneumonia, and soft tissue (wound) and bloodstream infections. Staph can also cause food borne illness in persons who eat food contaminated with the bacteria.
“MRSA” stands for methicillin resistant S. aureus. Initially, MRSA strains were resistant to the antibiotic methicillin, a form of penicillin. Now they are resistant to many antibiotics and are sometimes called “multi-resistant” S. aureus. MRSA is not the only antibiotic resistant bacteria. Initially, infection with MRSA was associated with exposure to health care environments, such as hospitals. However, other MRSA strains have evolved that affect previously healthy persons who have not had contact with health care facilities. MRSA causes the same types of infections as S. aureus that is not resistant to methicillin; however, MRSA may be more difficult to treat and can be rapidly fatal.
We cannot eliminate staph because it is everywhere. However, because staph is everywhere and has the potential to cause infection, everyone—not just health care workers—must be involved in prevention.
Staph can be transmitted by infected persons and by carriers. Factors that appear to be related to transmitting staph from one person to another or making a person more susceptible to infection include:
All information contained in this article as well as more detailed information is available at the Texas Department of State Health Services website at www.mrsaTexas.org.