What Should You Do If You Have a MRSA Infection? 5 Tips

Best ways to treat staph bacteria

You may have heard horror stories about people who get seriously ill after a MRSA infection. Of course, a so-called “super bug” that resists antibiotic treatment is a scary idea. But don’t panic if your doctor says you have MRSA.

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It is manageable, and doctors can treat it. But remember this: You need to follow your treatment plan carefully.

Understanding MRSA

The staph bacteria isn’t always tough to treat. It’s the specific strain known as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus that is well-known for being problematic.

As its name indicates, you can’t treat it with some of the more common antibiotics, including methicillin. But if you take other antibiotics, whether alone or in combination, it is often effective against it.

If a MRSA infection is particularly severe or gets into the bloodstream, intravenous antibiotics are typically the next line of treatment.

What are the signs of MRSA?

Many people have staph bacteria on their skin or in their nose and it doesn’t cause harm. For most people, if a cut or skin abrasion becomes infected with staph, it may just cause a minor skin problem.

But a MRSA infection can become a bigger problem if you have a compromised immune system or if it enters your bloodstream.

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There are a few signs that may indicate trouble. Cuts infected with MRSA may cause:

  • Spots that look like pimples or boils
  • Redness
  • Warmth (inflammation) at the site
  • Fever

What are the best treatment options?

If you have a boil, your doctor will drain the fluid and test it to see if it’s MRSA. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed. If there is an infection, your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics.

Family medicine doctor Neha Vyas, MD, says the most important thing to remember when taking antibiotics to treat MRSA is to finish the entire course. You should notify your doctor if you miss even one dose, she says.

“If you are just partially treated, the bacteria that doesn’t get eradicated can become resistant,” she says. “There are only a limited number of antibiotics used to treat MRSA and they are expensive and really strong.”

Also notify your doctor if you are taking antibiotics and your infection doesn’t improve in just a couple of days. If you’re not improving, you may need to go to the hospital for intravenous antibiotics, Dr. Vyas says.

How to control the spread of MRSA

A MRSA infection is easy to spread. But there are several things you can do to prevent that from happening.

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Dr. Vyas recommends taking the following steps (until the wound has completely healed and you’ve finished taking your medication):

  1. Follow your antibiotics instructions closely and take every dose.
  2. Avoid people with compromised immune systems.
  3. Keep the infected area covered. (If you can’t cover the wound completely, avoid daycare centers and don’t take part in contact sports.)
  4. Wash your sheets, towels and washcloths often to avoid infecting family members.
  5. Keep your fingernails short and clean, take regular baths and wash your hands frequently.

If you’ve had MRSA more than once or your family members also get MRSA, then it’s likely that you, or someone in your household, is a carrier. This means that someone has it on their skin and is infecting others around them.

If you are a carrier, your doctor can prescribe a treatment to get rid of the bacteria, Dr. Vyas says. This may include taking an antibiotic, washing with a special antimicrobial soap or taking a bleach bath.

“If you exercise normal precautions then getting MRSA is no big deal,” she says. “It’s typically manageable if you keep yourself and your house clean.”

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