Understanding MRSA -- Symptoms

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 20, 2021

What Are the Symptoms of MRSA?

The symptoms of MRSA infection depend on where you've been infected.

MRSA most often appears as a skin infection, like a boil or abscess. It also might infect a surgical wound. In either case, the area would look:

  • Swollen
  • Red
  • Painful
  • Filled with pus

Many people who have a staph skin infection often mistake it for a spider bite.

If staph infects the lungs and causes pneumonia, you will have:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Chills

MRSA can cause many other symptoms, because once it gets into your bloodstream, MRSA can settle anywhere. It can cause abscess in your spleen, kidney, and spine. It can cause endocarditis (heart valve infections), osteomyelitis (bone infections),  joint infections, breast mastitis, and prosthetic device infections. Unlike most MRSA skin infections, which can be treated in the doctor's office, these other more serious infections will land you in the hospital for intravenous antibiotic therapy.

Very rarely, staph can result in necrotizing fasciitis, or "flesh-eating" bacterial infections. These are serious skin infections that spread very quickly. While frightening, only a handful of necrotizing fasciitis cases has been reported.

Call Your Doctor About MRSA If:

You have signs of active infection, most likely of the skin with a spreading, painful, red rash or abscess; in most cases, MRSA is easily treated. However, MRSA infection can be serious, so seek medical care.

If you are already being treated for an infection, watch for signs that your medicine isn't working. If you are taking an antibiotic, call your health care provider if:

  • The infection is no better after three or four days of antibiotic therapy.
  • The rash spreads.
  • You develop a fever, or your fever gets worse.

People who are ill or have a compromised immune system have a higher risk of getting serious MRSA infections. If you have a condition that lowers your immunity, call your doctor right away if you think that you might have an infection.

Show Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The American Academy of Family Physicians.
Capriotti, T. Dermatology Nursing, Jan. 26, 2004.
Johnson, L. Infections in Medicine, 2005.
WebMD Feature: "Drug-Resistant Staph Spreads Across U.S."

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