MRSA: The Complete Guide to Fighting This Superbug

MRSA

Story at-a-glance -

  • One of the most common symptoms of MRSA are skin infections, which usually begin as swollen, painful red bumps
  • An 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
  • Several home remedies have been found to be effective against MRSA, as they contain powerful antimicrobial properties

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 they are not strong enough to cause an infection, thanks to your immune system.1

However, due to the rise of antibiotics, bacteria are quickly evolving to ensure their survival. Decades of antibiotic abuse has led to the rise of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). This variation of the common staph bacteria is harder to treat due to its resistance to this popular strain of antibiotics.

MRSA is a disease that requires immediate treatment because of its potential to be fatal. This guide will help educate you about the essentials when it comes to MRSA, such as its symptoms, possible health complications, as well as how it spreads, and how it can be treated or prevented.

What Is MRSA?

MRSA, or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, is a beta-lactam-resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus, a common bacteria that can cause a variety of infections. MRSA was first recognized as a medical problem  in 1961 when doctors discovered that staph bacteria became resistant to methicillin. Originally, methicillin was used as an alternative to penicillin, after bacteria became resistant to this type of antibiotic.2

One of the most common settings where MRSA can spread rapidly is in hospitals and health care centers. In a medical environment, your risk of getting MRSA is higher because there are many patients taking antibiotics to treat their bacterial infections, allowing MRSA to take a foothold on your health.

In addition, intravenous items connected to patients’ bodies may serve as pathway for bacteria to enter and cause infections. The microbes can then spread to different persons once they come into contact with non-infected patients or visitors.3 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.4

MRSA is not an issue to be ignored. According to the 2014 Active Bacterial Core Surveillance (ABCs) report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 72,444 MRSA-related cases are recorded in the United States alone every year, with approximately 9,194 fatal cases.5

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 that they won’t cause any symptoms or disease. But when staph or MRSA bacteria begin to reproduce and colonize, they can cause an infection once they seep through a crack on your skin.6

Once a full-blown disease appears, that’s when you become highly contagious and can spread the bacteria to others.7 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.8

Staph bacteria typically prefer human hosts because of the iron content in the blood, which is their main source of fuel. They attach themselves to red blood cells, open them up and extract the iron from the hemoglobin.9 Furthermore, staph bacteria can reproduce at an exponential rate — an entire generation can appear in just about 30 minutes if given the optimal conditions for growth.10

MRSA Bacteria Can Survive and Spread in the Environment

It’s no surprise that 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 by the Journal of Microbiology, researchers tested how long different types of staph bacteria (including MRSA) can survive on five common hospital materials: Swatches of the test materials were applied with 10,000 to 100,000 colony-forming units of staph bacteria and observed daily. Researchers noted that the bacteria were able to survive for the following days:11

Smooth 100 percent cotton (clothing): Four to 21 days

100 percent cotton terry (towels): Two to 14 days

60 percent cotton and 40 percent polyester blend (scrub suits and lab coats): One to three days

100 percent polyester (privacy drapes): One to 40 days

100 percent 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 staph infection. The only difference between them is that MRSA is resistant to various types of antibiotics, making it harder to treat once an infection sets in.12 In any case, you must educate yourself about the common signs of a staph skin infection because not getting treatment right away can lead to severe complications. The most common symptoms include:13

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.

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.14

MRSA May Also Cause Life-Threatening Complications

Aside from topical infections, MRSA may cause severe complications as well, if the bacteria reach your bloodstream or organs. It is important that you educate yourself on the following illnesses that MRSA may cause, as they are often life-threatening:15

Pneumonia 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:16

Chest pain whenever you breathe or cough

The coughing has phlegm

Fatigue

Fever

Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

Meningitis is a bacterial infection of your nervous system. According to the CDC, it is possibly fatal, and that death can occur in just a few hours.

Fortunately, it is entirely treatable once diagnosed right away.17 Symptoms you should watch out for include:18

Stiff neck

Vomiting

Convulsions or seizures

Severe headache and muscle pain

Aversion to bright lights

Fever and chilly limbs

Cellulitis occurs when staph bacteria infect the deeper tissues beneath the skin, which may spread to other parts of the body. Classic symptoms of cellulitis include redness, pain and tenderness of the affected skin.

Swelling and blisters are other things to watch out for. If you develop fevers, chills or a rapid heart rate, it could mean that you have developed a severe infection.19

Endocarditis When MRSA infects the cardiac muscles, they can become inflamed, resulting in a condition known as endocarditis. Symptoms may differ among people, but the ones you should look out for include:20

High fever

Bleeding under the fingernails or toenails

Headache

Shortness of breath

Muscle pain

Fatigue

Unexpected weight loss

Toxic Shock Syndrome is a potentially fatal condition caused by a poison produced by staph bacteria. If not detected right away, it may lead to hypotensive shock, which is when the heart and lungs stop functioning.21

Other alarming symptoms you need to watch out for include low blood pressure, confusion, muscle aches, seizures and a sudden high fever.22

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.23

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.24

Septicemia 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.25

The symptoms of sepsis vary, but early signs to watch out for include:26

Fever, shivering or feeling cold

Fast heart rate

Fast breathing plus shortness of breath

Sweaty skin

Negative changes in mental state


Types of MRSA Rashes and Skin Infections

One of the most common symptoms of MRSA are skin infections, which usually begin as swollen, painful red bumps. The infected area may be also warm to the touch, as well as full of pus.27 According to the CDC, anyone can get MRSA by coming into contact with an infected wound, or sharing personal items such as towels.28

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, 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, then a tender lump with pus to grown under it. Typically, bacteria enter due to cuts, scrapes, shaving, ingrown hairs and insect bites.29

Impetigo Is a Rash Common Among Children

Aside from boils, another type of MRSA skin rash you can develop is impetigo, though it is 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.30

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 triclosan-free soap and then bandage the skin until you are free from infection.31

Cellulitis Infects the Deeper Layers of Your Skin

A more serious (but non-contagious) infection caused by staph or MRSA bacteria is cellulitis, which affects the tissues under your skin, particularly the dermis and subcutaneous tissue. Cellulitis typically begins as a small rash with tenderness, swelling, as well as being warm to the touch. Pain is usually associated with this disease as well. The rash can appear anywhere on the body, but the legs are the most commonly affected areas, followed by the arm, head and neck.32,33

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.34

MRSA Causes That You Should Be Aware Of

In essence, an 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 years of widespread antibiotic abuse for decades.35 Highly contagious MRSA bacteria can spread in a multitude of ways:36

Direct contact: Skin-to-skin contact can transfer MRSA bacteria to other people.

Sharing: Lending items such as towels, beddings and other fabrics to relatives can spread MRSA bacteria.

Touching: Commonly used household objects such as doorknobs can harbor MRSA bacteria, acting as a focal point that can spread to other people.

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 usually 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:37,38

HA-MRSA CA-MRSA
  • Infected equipment: Commonly used hospital items such as stethoscopes may transfer MRSA to patients and doctors alike.
  • Poor hygiene: Hands that are not scrubbed well enough may harbor MRSA and infect people upon touch.
  • Common hospital objects: Frequently touched items such as bed railings and sheets may contain a colony of MRSA bacteria.
  • 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.

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, and doing so can only compound your problem further.

Lifestyle Habits to Help Treat MRSA

Simple lifestyle changes are often enough to help your body fight off bacteria and prevent 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. As your fitness level improves, the higher the chances your immune system can help fight off MRSA. 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.39 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 has shown that inadequate levels of it can increase your risk of MRSA and other infections.40 Getting regular sun exposure 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, 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.

Eat a healthy diet. Unhealthy food can help compromise your health, such as processed meats, sugar and grains. Ideally, your diet should be comprised of whole foods, such as vegetables, grass fed meats and healthy fat. Processed meats, snacks and sweetened drinks should be avoided 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. Researchers theorize that allicin works by blocking certain enzymes, thus preventing bacteria from infecting healthy tissue.41

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.42

Turmeric: This popular spice has been found to have antimicrobial properties that can fight MRSA.43

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.44 However, a bigger study showed little difference in rates of eradication, hence, more evidence may be needed to support the routine use of this essential oil against this infection.

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:45,46

Cover your wounds properly. As mentioned before, 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 in 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 triclosan-free soap 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. In addition, the right foods can help improve skin health, thereby lowering the chances of bacteria from entering your system in the first place. With those two tenets in mind, there are foods out there that you can incorporate into your daily diet to help protect your well-being.

Eat only antibiotic-free meat : When it comes to any kind of meat that you consume, make sure that it is certified antibiotic-free and grass fed. These two markers ensure that the product you’re about to consume doesn’t contain MRSA, as the meat was healthily grown in the first place.

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.47

Garlic: A Chicago Tribune report indicates that the allicin found in garlic can help fight MRSA by blocking certain enzymes in the bacteria that allow them to invade healthy tissue. To maximize garlic&rsq uo;s effectiveness, consume it raw, as microwaving or cooking diminishes its beneficial compounds.48

Vitamin C: Aside from consuming foods that can help fight off MRSA, one thing you should not ignore is your skin health, because healthy skin can help prevent MRSA from colonizing and entering your system. It’s important that you consume vitamin C regularly, as it is a powerful antioxidant that also helps with collagen synthesis. It has been shown to help with the following aspects related to skin health:49

Photoprotection: Limiting the damage induced by ultraviolet light exposure.50

Photodamage: Reducing oxidative damage to skin proteins.51

Wound healing: Vitamin C may help improve wound healing by limiting free radical damage at the site of injury.52,53

Dry skin: Higher intakes of vitamin C are associated with a lower risk of dry skin.54

Your best sources of vitamin C include oranges, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, broccoli and kiwifruits.55

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 antibiotics. In an MRSA infection, you may develop any of the following symptoms on your skin:56

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, or touching contaminated objects such as door knobs, towels, beddings or clothes.57

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.58

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 develop severe complications because the bacteria have already seeped into your system and causing life-threatening complications, you may need a different type of antibiotic to help save your life.59

But in most cases, antibiotic treatment is not needed. Your doctor may drain pus or abscess from the infection to help relieve inflammation, and then clean up the affected area.60 Home remedies may also be effective, as they are known for possessing antibacterial properties. Examples include tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar, olive leaf extract and turmeric.

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:61

Septicemia

Pneumonia

Osteomyelitis

Endocarditis

Urinary tract infection

Q: Is MRSA an airborne disease?

A: There’s a chance MRSA can spread through the air, such as when a person infected with pneumonia is coughing.62 However, MRSA largely infects people via direct skin contact, contaminated belongings, equipment or supplies. In addition, environments where large amounts of people are close to one another, such as military bases, daycares, schools and hospitals, have a higher risk of spreading MRSA.

Q: Can MRSA be cured?

A: MRSA can be effectively treated 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.63 Home remedies may also be utilized to help provide relief from symptoms until you feel better.

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