Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

MRSA: What You Should Know


Am Fam Physician. 2010 Apr 1;81(7):900.

  See related article on skin and soft tissue infections

What is MRSA?

Staphylococcus aureus, or staph, is a common type of bacteria. Antibiotics can usually cure staph infections. However, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA for short, is a type of staph infection that is resistant to many antibiotics, making it hard to treat.

How do I know if I have it?

Many people have MRSA in their nose and throat, but do not get sick. If MRSA infects the skin, it can cause red, warm, and painful areas or fluid-filled bumps called boils. Sometimes MRSA infects open wounds on the skin. Your doctor can test a sample of the wound to find out if you have it.

If untreated, MRSA skin infections can spread to other organs or to the blood. Serious MRSA infections often cause fevers and chills.

How is it spread?

You can get it by touching an infected wound or something that has touched the wound.

The best way to stop the spread of MRSA is by washing your hands with antibacterial soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Do not share personal items, like unwashed clothes or towels, with people who have skin infections.

How is it treated?

If you have MRSA-infected boils, your doctor will probably drain them. He or she may also recommend antibiotic pills. If the infection doesn't get better with these medicines, you may need to go to the hospital to get antibiotics through an IV.

If your MRSA infection is severe or spreading quickly, you may need surgery to remove the infected skin.

What should I do if I think I have a skin infection?

Tell your doctor if you notice an area on your skin that is red, warm, and painful. Be sure to tell him or her if you have had fevers or chills, or if the redness is spreading. If you have boils, do not try to drain them yourself.

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor

American Academy of Family Physicians

Web site:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Web site:

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2010 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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