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Too Sick to Work: Staph Skin Infections

You see an ugly boil on your skin and wonder if a spider bit you. As the abscess becomes redder and more swollen and painful, you visit your doctor and discover that you have a staph skin infection, or perhaps even methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Thanks to scary headlines about MRSA, “people panic when they hear the term ‘staph,’” Haynes says. But “the community-acquired staph aureus infections are much less troublesome than ones that somebody might pick up in a hospital,” she says.

Community-acquired staph infections are also more easily treatable. In rare cases, though, they can become more serious, invasive infections, so it’s crucial to bring any skin abscesses or boils to your doctor’s attention.

Although MRSA should be taken seriously, “It’s not like if somebody tells you that you have a staph infection that you’re going to die,” Haynes says. The infection can be treated.

Nor does an MRSA infection automatically rule out going to work.

MRSA is most frequently transmitted by direct skin-to-skin contact or by sharing contaminated items, such as towels or uniforms. “It’s only a problem if there’s a break in the skin, which becomes an entry for infection,” Haynes says.

The bottom line: Check with your doctor about going back to work. If your doctor gives you the OK, keep the affected area bandaged and wash your hands frequently while you’re at work. Someone with MRSA should avoid going back to work if the pus and wound drainage can’t be completely contained under a clean dry bandage, the CDC says, or if the worker can’t maintain “good hygiene practices,” such as keeping hands clean and declining to share personal items. As a further precaution, if you have an active MRSA infection, avoid any activities that could expose coworkers to skin-to-skin contact with the infected area until it’s healed.

“Remember, it’s a contact problem,” Haynes says. “If you sit at a computer and don’t have contact with anybody else, you probably could go to work.”

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