MRSA Infection: Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Instructor: Lisa Cauthen

Lisa is a Registered Nurse with a 14 years of experience and a Masters Degree in Nursing Education. She has certifications in CPN, ACLS, PALS, and NRP.

MRSA is a bacteria that is causing infections in hospitals and the community. This lesson will cover the symptoms, treatment, and prevention of an MRSA infection.

MRSA Infections

MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a bad bug with a worse reputation. Since its identification in 1961, it has been associated with hospital infections, and in the 1990s, MRSA began to circulate in the community. In this lesson we will follow Nate and his journey with an MRSA infection, including his symptoms and treatment and ways to prevent future infections.

MRSA bacteria


The Staphylococcus aureus bacteria can be found on people's skin and/or in their nose and respiratory tract and is usually harmless. Symptoms, or what physical feelings a patient experiences, of an MRSA infection depend on where the infection is.

Infection on the Skin

Nate presented to his doctor with an area of his thigh that he thought was a spider bite, even though he didn't remember being bit by anything. His right thigh had a half-dollar-sized area of raised red tissue, and there was a white dot in the middle where it had come to a 'head' and was warm to the touch. He described the pain as intense, hurting worse than it looked like it should. Nate's presentation is typical for an MRSA skin wound, down to the spider bite appearance. The wound he has is often described by people as an abscess, other times referred to as a boil or a 'risen.'

MRSA skin infection reflecting what is called a risen
MRSA skin infection

Infection in the Respiratory Tract

In the nose and respiratory tract, MRSA can cause respiratory infections, including pneumonia. The symptoms of MRSA pneumonia are the same as pneumonia caused by other organisms and include cough, fever, chest pain and difficulty breathing. Luckily for Nate, he had none of these symptoms.


Because bacteria cause MRSA infections, treatment includes antibiotics. Depending on the nature and severity of the infection, the antibiotic could be applied in a cream, taken by mouth, or given in an injection or intravenous (IV) infusion.

Bacteria, for a number of reasons, are evolving and developing resistance to the antibiotics we have today, and this is where the methicillin-resistant part of MRSA becomes important. Specifically, MRSA cannot be treated with penicillin or any other beta-lactam antibiotics. Consequently, another class of antibiotics should be used, one that the bacteria is susceptible to.

MRSA skin wounds are often pus-filled, and drainage of the wound is often necessary to remove the pus pocket and promote healing. This can sometimes be accomplished at home with warm soaks and some gentle squeezing, but if severe enough, the MRSA abscess will require a procedure called an incision and drainage (I&D), which can be performed by a healthcare provider. Other treatments are supportive and can include warm compresses and soaks as well as analgesics (pain relievers).

Nate's wound was lanced (had a surgical cut made into it) and was squeezed by the doctor until a satisfactory amount of pus was removed. It was then bandaged and he was placed on oral antibiotics. Because the wound presented as a classic MRSA infection, the doctor chose not to use penicillin or any other beta-lactam antibiotics to treat it. He also instructed Nate to take an over-the-counter pain reliever.

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