Dermatology • Mar 29, 2010


Have any of your children been seen by a physician in recent years and told that they have a “staph” infection?  How was it treated?  Were you specifically told it was “MRSA?”  Have you been told that any of your children are “colonized” with MRSA?

MRSA infection is caused by the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium which is often called "staph." MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.   MRSA is a strain of staph that’s resistant to the broad-spectrum antibiotics commonly used to treat it.   Resistance to antibiotics can be caused by mutations in the bacteria themselves, but is thought to be mostly the result of decades of excessive and unnecessary antibiotic use.  MRSA can be acquired in the community or while in a hospital setting.  Community acquired MRSA burst into national public view in 2003 when 5 members of St. Louis Rams NFL team developed skin abscesses at the sites of turf burns.

Staph bacteria are normally found on the skin or in the nose of about one-third of the population. If you have staph on your skin or in your nose but aren’t sick, you are said to be "colonized" but not infected. Healthy people can be colonized and have no ill effects. However, they can pass the bacteria to others. 

Staph bacteria are generally harmless unless they enter the body through a cut or other wound, and even then they often cause only minor skin problems in healthy people. However, staph infections can cause serious illness. This most often happens in older adults and people who have weakened immune systems, usually in hospitals and long term care facilities. But in the past several years, serious infections have been occurring in otherwise healthy people in the community, for example athletes who share equipment or personal items.

Staph skin infections, including MRSA, generally start as small red bumps that resemble pimples, boils or spider bites. Many times the bacteria remains confined to the skin in a conditions called cellulitis or folliculitis.  However it can quickly turn into deep, painful abscess that could require surgical drainage.  Treatment for staph skin infections can include antibiotics alone, surgical incision and drainage alone, or surgical incision and drainage along with oral or intravenous antibiotics.