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MRSA: A Helpful Guide to Fighting This Superbug

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Story at-a-glance -

  • MRSA infection is caused by staph bacteria that have become resistant to the methicillin family of antibiotics, thus making it harder to treat
  • The most common symptom of MRSA is a skin infection, which usually begins as swollen, painful red bumps. If left untreated, MRSA may be fatal
  • Several home remedies have been found to be effective against MRSA, as they contain powerful antimicrobial properties

Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection requires immediate treatment because of its potential to be fatal.1This guide will help educate you about the essentials when it comes to MRSA, such as its symptoms, possible health complications, how it spreads and how it can be treated or prevented.

What Is MRSA?

Bacteria live all around you, from the surfaces you touch to the soil you step on — they're found practically everywhere. Infectious bacteria can even be living on your skin, although usually they're not strong enough to cause an infection, thanks to your immune system.2

However, due to the worldwide rise in the overuse of antibiotics, bacteria are quickly evolving to evade antibiotics' effectiveness. This is what has happened with methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), where decades of antibiotic abuse have led to the rise of MRSA, making this particular infection harder to treat with many common antibiotics.3

MRSA is a beta-lactam-resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus, a common bacterium that can cause a variety of infections. It was first recognized as a medical problem in 1961 when doctors discovered that staph bacteria had become resistant to methicillin, which was being used as an alternative to penicillin, after the bacteria became resistant to penicillin.4

MRSA is broken down into three classifications: hospital-acquired; health care-acquired; and community-onset or5 community-acquired. One of the most common settings where MRSA can spread rapidly is in hospitals and health care centers. In a hospital environment, your risk of getting MRSA increases if you have surgery, are admitted to intensive care or undergo hemodialysis.6 Health care-acquired MRSA occurs when you come into contact with someone who has recently been treated in a non-hospital facility, such as a clinic.7

In the community, MRSA usually spreads through direct person-to-person contact. Other times, sharing items such as towels, clothing and athletic equipment can transfer MRSA to others.8

MRSA is not an issue to be ignored — but neither are the other types of staph infections. According to a 2019 CDC report on staph infections in the U.S., there were more than 119,000 staph-related cases reported in 2017, with nearly 20,000 deaths. This report differed from previous ones in that it combined reports on all types of staph. Noting that MRSA infections had actually decreased by 17 percent annually between 2005 and 2012, the CDC's director Dr. Robert Redfield explained why they are now focusing on staph infections of every kind:9

" … the report also showed an almost 4 percent increase in MSSA [methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus] infections that started outside of a health care setting from 2012 to 2017 … 'U.S. hospitals have made significant progress, but this report tells us that all staph infections must remain a prevention priority for health care providers.'"

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Is MRSA Contagious?

Most people carry staph bacteria all over their bodies, typically on their skin and inside their nose. However, these bacteria are not colonized, which means they don't normally cause any symptoms or disease. But when staph or MRSA bacteria begin to reproduce and colonize, they can cause an infection once they enter your bloodstream.10 MRSA also may be acquired from coming into contact with contaminated objects,11 such as athletic equipment, personal hygiene tools, towels and furniture.12

One prominent characteristic of staph bacteria is their ability to adapt to antibiotic exposure, leading to life-threatening infections. To do this, they genetically alter themselves, ensuring that they are able to reproduce and extend their longevity.13

Staph bacteria typically prefer human hosts because of the iron content in the blood, which is vital for their spreading. They have evolved to acquire iron from the hemoglobin in the blood,14 even if the body has limited its iron excretion to prevent being used by pathogenic microbes.15

MRSA Bacteria Can Survive and Spread in the Environment

MRSA bacteria can live on surfaces, allowing them to spread and infect people at an incredible rate. But how long can they survive while exposed to the dangers of nature? As it turns out, they're very resilient.

In a study published in the Journal of Microbiology, researchers applied 10,000 to 100,000 colony-forming units of staph bacteria on swatches of test materials and observed them daily. They noted that the bacteria were able to survive for the following days:16

  • Smooth 100% cotton (clothing) — Four to 21 days
  • 100% cotton terry (towels) — Two to 14 days
  • 60% cotton and 40% polyester blend (scrub suits and lab coats) — One to three days
  • 100% polyester (privacy drapes) — One to 40 days
  • 100% polypropylene plastic (splash aprons) — 40 to more than 51 days

Telltale MRSA Symptoms to Look Out For

The symptoms of MRSA infection are practically the same as a regular staph infection. The only difference between them is MRSA is resistant to antibiotics, making it harder to treat once an infection sets in.17 In any case, you should educate yourself about the common signs of a staph skin infection because not getting treatment right away can lead to severe complications. A list provided by the Mayo Clinic gives the most common symptoms:18

  • Boils — The most common form of staph infection, boils form over a hair follicle or oil gland, which becomes red, swollen and filled with pus.
  • Impetigo — This condition is distinguished by its painful rash and large, fluid-filled blisters that may form a honey-colored crust.
  • Cellulitis — An infection that affects the lower layer of your skin, which causes redness and swelling.
  • Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome — Usually affecting infants and toddlers, it produces blisters that create an appearance of a burn once they break.

In addition, staph bacteria may cause food poisoning if contaminated food is directly ingested. This can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps.19

MRSA May Also Cause Life-Threatening Complications

Aside from topical infections, MRSA may cause severe complications if the bacteria reach your bloodstream. It's important that you educate yourself on the following illnesses that MRSA may cause, as they are often life-threatening:20

Pneumonia — This is a respiratory disease wherein bacteria inflame the air sacs in one or both lungs, causing them to become filled with pus. Prominent symptoms you should be aware of include:21

Chest pain whenever you breathe or cough

Cough with phlegm



Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

Meningitis — This is a bacterial infection of your nervous system. According to the CDC, it is possibly fatal, and death can occur in just a few hours. Fortunately, meningitis is treatable once diagnosed right away.22 Symptoms you should watch out for include:23

Stiff neck


Convulsions or seizures

Severe headache and muscle pain

Aversion to bright lights

Fever and chilly limbs

Cellulitis — This disease occurs when staph bacteria infect the deeper tissues beneath the skin, particularly the "dermis and subcutaneous tissues." Classic symptoms of cellulitis include swelling, redness, pain and warmth in the affected area. You may develop fever as well.24

Endocarditis — When MRSA bacteria infect the cardiac muscles, they can become inflamed, resulting in endocarditis.25 Symptoms may differ depending on the situation, but the ones you should look out for include:26

Fevers or chills


Muscle ache

Breathing problems




Blood in the urine

Skin changes in the fingers or toes

Toxic shock syndrome — A potentially fatal condition caused by a poison produced by staph bacteria.27 Once toxins are released into your system, you may develop chills alongside nausea and vomiting. Other symptoms include painful swallowing, fever and rashes, as well as organ dysfunction.28

Osteomyelitis — Osteomyelitis is a rare but serious bacterial infection of the bone. This normally occurs when staph bacteria enter the bloodstream and penetrate the skeletal system.29 Common symptoms to watch out for include severe pain and swelling in the affected area, as well as fever, chills and sweating. Fatigue and changes in walking patterns may also occur.30

Septicemia — This is a severe condition wherein bacteria have infected the blood. Also known as sepsis, this disease requires immediate treatment to help avoid life-threatening situations.31 If sepsis is left untreated, it may lead to lung or kidney failure. The symptoms vary, but early signs to watch out for include:32


Brain fog

Temporary hypotension (low blood pressure)

Types of MRSA Rashes and Skin Infections

The most common symptoms of MRSA are skin infections, which usually begin as swollen, painful red bumps. The infected areas also may be warm to the touch, as well as full of pus.33 According to the CDC, anyone can get MRSA by coming into contact with an infected wound, or sharing personal items such as towels.34 Besides the serious symptoms to watch out for mentioned earlier, read on to learn other clues you should know about these infections.

Boils Are the Most Common Form of MRSA Infection

Boils are a common symptom of a staph/MRSA infection, appearing generally on the face, neck, armpits, shoulders or buttocks. When several boils appear together to form a large one, this is commonly known as a carbuncle. Boils develop when staph bacteria enter a hair follicle or oil gland. It usually takes several days before an infection appears, usually causing skin redness, and then a tender lump with pus grows under it.35

Impetigo Is a Rash Common Among Children

Aside from boils, another type of MRSA skin rash you can develop is impetigo, though it's more common in children than adults. In essence, impetigo appears as red sores on the face, typically around the nose and mouth. In other instances, impetigo can appear on the hands and feet. The sores may rupture, leaving a crust after a few days.36

Impetigo isn't usually life-threatening, though you are still considered contagious and can inadvertently spread bacteria to other people. Make sure that you wash the affected areas with plain soap and then bandage the skin until the infection completely heals.37

Cellulitis Infects the Deeper Layers of Your Skin

A more serious (but noncontagious) infection caused by staph or MRSA bacteria is cellulitis, which affects the tissues under your skin, namely the dermis and other subcutaneous tissue. Cellulitis typically begins as a small rash with pain and swelling. You may develop fever, too.38,39

It is advised that you get medical treatment right away. Failure to do so can result in sepsis, which is a potentially fatal bacterial infection of your blood.40

MRSA Causes You Should Be Aware Of

MRSA infection is caused by staph bacteria that have become resistant to the methicillin family of antibiotics, thus making it harder to treat than usual. This is attributed to decades of widespread antibiotic abuse.41 Highly contagious MRSA bacteria can spread in a multitude of ways:42

  • Hospital stay — Spending time in the hospital increases your chances of MRSA exposure due to the environment.
  • Weakened immune system — The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) destroys your immune system,43 making it easy for MRSA to colonize.
  • Open wounds — MRSA may enter your system through openings in the skin.
  • Skin contact — Direct skin-to-skin contact may spread MRSA.

Factors That Can Increase Your Risk of Getting MRSA Infections

There are many factors involved that can increase your risk of contracting an MRSA infection, and they are classified into two main types: HA-MRSA (health care-associated MRSA) and CA-MRSA (community associated-MRSA). As the names imply, the spread of MRSA is largely dependent on the environment you live in:44


Surgery — Having surgery increases your risk of exposure to HA-MRSA while you're in the hospital.

Contact — People who carry MRSA but don't exhibit symptoms may spread the germs through direct contact with others.

Devices — Infected hospital equipment may cause MRSA infections.


Living quarters — Cramped spaces such as jails and military bases can significantly increase the risk of getting CA-MRSA.

Activities — Participating in close-contact sports can lead to infection. Unclean fitness centers or equipment can also carry MRSA bacteria.

Sanitation — Common community objects can harbor MRSA, which can spread MRSA exponentially.

Drug addiction47 The CDC in 2019 noted that the ongoing opioid crisis coupled with injection drug use are both factors in the rise in serious staph infections. In 2016, 9% of serious infections were in injection drug users, compared to 4% in 2011.

MRSA Treatment Requires Various Approaches

While MRSA may be a superbug, it is a treatable condition. You don't have to rely on other types of antibiotics to kill MRSA, as they could only compound your problem.

Lifestyle Habits to Help Treat MRSA

Simple lifestyle changes are often enough to help your body fight off the bacteria and keep them from colonizing. Here are some important strategies you should apply:

  • Get regular exercise — Exercising can help improve the circulation of immune system cells in your blood. The more your fitness level improves, the higher the chances your immune system can help fight off MRSA.48 Be sure to combine various exercises such as weight training, HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and stretching to make sure you have all your bases covered. If you're pressed for time, you might want to try the Nitric Oxide Dump.
  • Get high-quality sleep — Research has shown that sleep deprivation can have the same effect on your immune system as stress.49 To get high-quality sleep, make sure you optimize your melatonin production by sleeping with the lights completely off in your room, as well as making sure there are no distractions in your surroundings.
  • Optimize your vitamin D levels — Vitamin D is an important nutrient that should be optimized at all times. Research shows that inadequate levels of it can increase your risk of MRSA and other infections.50 Getting regular sun exposure at noontime will help your body produce its own vitamin D.
  • Have hobbies that help relieve stress — If you regularly experience stress due to various reasons such as your job or personal issues, having a good outlet can reduce the levels of stress hormones in your body. Activities such as meditation, prayer or yoga can help you feel relaxed at the end of the day. You may also try the Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT).
  • Eat a healthy diet — Research shows that unhealthy foods such as processed meats, sugar and fast food can help compromise your immune system function.51 Ideally, your diet should be composed of whole foods, such as vegetables, grass fed meats and healthy fat. Avoid processed meats, snacks and sweetened drinks as much as possible.

Helpful Home Remedies for MRSA

Several home remedies have been found to be effective against MRSA, as they contain powerful antimicrobial properties. Some examples you can try include:

  • Garlic This common household cooking ingredient contains allicin, which is shown to fight MRSA.52
  • Olive leaf extract — Research published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents reveal that olive leaf extract contains compounds that help inhibit the spread of MRSA.53
  • Turmeric This popular spice has been found to have antimicrobial properties that can fight MRSA.54
  • Tea tree oil — A study published in the British Journal of Community Nursing noted that two small randomized controlled trials found that tea tree oil may have a large (but non-significant) improvement at fighting MRSA.55

MRSA Prevention: How to Keep It From Spreading

Since MRSA can spread quickly and cause an infection, it's important that you educate yourself in preventing it from affecting other people. While it may seem daunting, stopping the spread of MRSA does not require any fancy device or procedure — you only need to be aware of what you're doing in your day-to-day activities. Here are some strategies to help keep this infection from spreading:56,57

  • Cover your wounds properly — MRSA can enter your body through cracks in your skin, such as wounds or cuts. Even a small opening can increase the chances of MRSA entering your bloodstream. In light of this, any wounds sustained from a recent activity must be covered with clean and dry bandages.
  • Wash your hands regularly — You must scrub your hands with plain soap and water for at least 15 seconds, then dry them with a clean towel. Make it a habit to do this regularly, especially after you've been outdoors.
  • Practice good hygiene — Physical activities such as sports can increase your risk of getting MRSA, so it's important to clean yourself up every time you sweat.
  • Don't share personal items — Personal items such as towels, sheets and other pieces of clothing should not be shared with other people. This can help prevent the spread of bacteria. Conversely, you should not borrow items from your friends because you may be the recipient of MRSA bacteria.

A Healthy Diet Can Help Fight MRSA

While home remedies may be effective, a healthy diet can help boost your immune system further. The right foods can help improve skin health, thereby lowering the chances of bacteria from entering your system in the first place. Foods that you can incorporate into your daily diet to help protect your well-being include:

  • Manuka honey This special type of honey that comes from the Manuka bush (native to Australia and New Zealand) can help fight off MRSA. According to the results of an experiment, treating MRSA with Manuka honey strips them of a specific protein that's necessary for synthesizing fatty acids. As a result, MRSA will starve and eventually die.58
  • Garlic — A study reported that allicin found in garlic may help fight MRSA thanks its strong antimicrobial properties.59
  • Vitamin C — This essential vitamin is strongly linked with skin health, and it may help ward off skin infections.60 Additional research shows that vitamin C may help improve wound healing by limiting free radical damage at the site of injury.61,62

Lastly, make sure the food you eat is clean and has been prepared in a sanitary manner. MRSA bacteria may latch onto whatever you're eating. Make sure that your food comes from clean sources, be it from restaurants or from the market.63

Frequently Asked Questions About MRSA

Q: What do the symptoms of MRSA look like?

A: The symptoms of MRSA are very much the same as a regular staph infection; the only difference is that MRSA is resistant to certain antibiotics. In an MRSA infection, you may develop any of the following symptoms on your skin:64

Boils — The most common staph infection, boils occur when bacteria infect a hair follicle or oil gland, making it red, swollen and full of pus.

Impetigo — A painful rash that may cause large, fluid-filled blisters and a honey-colored crust.

Cellulitis — A bacterial infection affecting the tissue under your skin, cellulitis causes redness and swelling on the affected area. Skin ulcers may occur as well.

Q: Is MRSA a contagious disease?

A: Yes, MRSA can spread through various methods such as direct skin-to-skin contact, dirty hands, hospital visits or living in tight spaces with other people.65

Q: How long is MRSA contagious?

A: Once an infection sets in, you may be contagious for up to 10 days. However, this number may vary as recovery time varies from person to person.66

Q: How is MRSA treated?

A: Treatment for MRSA depends entirely on the type of infection that has appeared, as well as the severity of the symptoms. If you have developed severe complications because the bacteria have already seeped into your system and caused life-threatening complications, medical intervention is necessary.67

But in most cases, antibiotic treatment is not needed. Your doctor may drain pus or abscesses from the infection to help relieve inflammation, and then clean up the affected area.68 Certain herbs such as anantamul, tea (camellia sinensis), bach and chitra have anti-MRSA activity, according to one study.69

Q: Is MRSA a deadly disease?

A: Yes, there's a possibility that MRSA bacteria can go deeper into your body, possibly causing life-threatening complications, such as:70





Urinary tract infection

Q: Is MRSA an airborne disease?

A: There's a chance MRSA can spread through the air, according to a 2001 study.71 However, MRSA largely infects people via direct skin contact, contaminated belongings, equipment or supplies. In addition, in places where large amounts of people are close to one another, such as military bases, day cares, schools and hospitals, there's a higher risk of spreading MRSA.

Q: Can MRSA be cured?

A: MRSA can be treated effectively using a variety of methods. In some cases, hospitalization may be required depending on what complications arise after the infection has spread throughout the body.72 Home remedies may also be utilized to help provide relief from symptoms until you feel better.

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