Staphylococcus aureus (commonly known as staph) are common bacteria. Staph are usually harmless and many healthy people carry these bacteria on their skin or in their nose. However, sometimes they can cause infection and serious illness. Some strains of staph are resistant to the antibiotic called methicillin, and to other antibiotics. These staph are known as methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Some people call MRSA infection "golden staph".
MRSA infections occur frequently among people in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. However, some MRSA strains spread readily between people in the community, and these are known as community acquired MRSA (CaMRSA) infections. CaMRSA strains are often quite different to MRSA strains associated with hospitals and may cause infections in people who are otherwise healthy.
Just like ordinary staph, CaMRSA infections can cause:
CaMRSA can get into the body through broken skin or sores, resulting in redness, pimples, swelling, tenderness or boils. Infections can become serious leading to blood infections or pneumonia. CaMRSA can be spread by:
CaMRSA skin infections can affect anyone. Crowding and frequent skin to skin contact can increase the risk of infection, so outbreaks tend to happen in schools, dormitories, military barracks, households, jails, and childcare centres. Cuts or abrasions, contact with contaminated items and surfaces, and infrequent washing increase the risk of infection. People who have health problems such as diabetes or a poor immune system or who have broken skin due to wounds, or dermatitis are also more likely to get an infection.
In addition to general hygiene, specific measures to prevent spread in schools and childcare include:
In addition to general hygiene, measures to prevent MRSA spread in sporting groups should include:
Staph infections are usually diagnosed on the basis of their appearance and the presence of any related symptoms (eg fever). To diagnose an infection of MRSA, your doctor will need to take a swab or sample from the boil, wound, or other site of infection, for laboratory testing.
Your doctor will advise on the best treatment for your infection. Many CaMRSA skin infections can be treated by draining the abscess or boil. Letting the pus drain out safely is often the only treatment that is needed and the person often feels better once this has happened. Drainage of skin boils or abscesses should only be performed by a doctor or trained nurse or health worker under sterile conditions. It is important to keep the wound well protected with a waterproof bandage so that you don't spread the infection to others.
In some circumstances CaMRSA is treated with special antibiotics. If you are given an antibiotic, take all of the doses as instructed by the doctor or pharmacist, even if the infection is getting better, (unless your doctor tells you to stop taking it). It is possible for a CaMRSA skin infection to come back after it appears cured.
Public health units can advise on the control of outbreaks. CaMRSA is not a notifiable condition in NSW.
Staphylococcus aureus in the community - Information for clinicians
For further information please call your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055