WebMD spoke with experts to get answers to nine common questions about MRSA.
What is MRSA?
MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a type of staph infection that is resistant to methicillin and other commonly used antibiotics in the same class, including penicillin, amoxicillin, and oxacillin.
What does an MRSA skin infection look like?
In otherwise healthy people with no recent history of hospitalizations, MRSA often appears as a pimple or boil that can be red, swollen, and painful. The lesion may also have pus or other drainage. Draining the lesion in the doctor's office may be the only treatment needed for localized skin infections, but doctors may also treat skin infections with oral antibiotics that are not resisted by MRSA.
What is health-care-associated MRSA?
A report issued earlier this month by the CDC concluded that nearly 19,000 people died from MRSA infections in 2005. Almost all of these deaths occurred among people with weakened immune systems who were being treated or had recently been treated in hospitals or other health care settings, including nursing homes and dialysis centers.
Health-care-associated MRSA can occur as surgical wound infections, bloodstream infections, and pneumonia. These life-threatening invasive infections are resistant to many, but not all, antibiotics. Roughly 5% of people treated in U.S. hospitals for MRSA died of the infection in 2005, according to a new report from the government's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Do I need to worry about MRSA if I am healthy and haven't been hospitalized recently?
Community-associated MRSA infections were first reported about a decade ago and are increasingly common, Virginia Commonwealth University infectious disease specialist Richard P. Wenzel, MD, tells WebMD. But fully 95% of these non-health-care-related infections are confined to the skin and soft tissue, he says.
CDC spokeswoman Nichole Coffin says community-associated skin infections are typically mild in nature. But she adds that in rare cases they can become life-threatening.
The point was illustrated by the death last week from MRSA of a previously healthy 17-year-old high school football player in Bedford, Va.
"We want people to take [MRSA] seriously, but we also want them to understand that most community-acquired infections are mild so that they can make an honest risk assessment."