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Fact Sheet - Community-Acquired Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (CA-MRSA)

What is CA-MRSA?

When MRSA bacteria cause infection in people who have not been hospitalized nor had a medical procedure within the last year, it is called CA-MRSA. These infections usually manifest as skin infections such as pimples and boils and can occur in otherwise healthy people.

How is CA-MRSA spread?

At any given time, between 20 and 30 per cent of the general population carry Staph bacteria on their hands or in their noses but are not ill. Some of these bacteria may be CA-MRSA, while others are not antibiotic resistant. You can carry CA-MRSA and not be sick, however you can still spread it to others and they can become ill.

CA-MRSA is usually spread through direct physical contact or through contact with objects contaminated with infected bodily fluids. If you pick up the bacteria on your hands through physical contact with an infected person or from a contaminated surface, you can spread it to others if you don't clean your hands properly. You can also infect yourself through an open wound on your own body.

Who gets MRSA?

MRSA infections occur most commonly among persons in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. This has been recognized as a problem for the last 20 years. Outbreaks happen in these healthcare settings because some patients already have a compromised immune system. However, CA-MRSA infections are becoming more common in the community.

Who gets CA-MRSA?

Anyone can get CA-MRSA. However, recent outbreaks have been seen among athletes, prisoners, and other groups of people who live in crowded settings and/or routinely share contaminated items. Poor hygiene practices, such as lack of hand washing, may spread the bacteria more easily. Outbreaks have also been seen among military recruits, daycare attendees, injection-drug users and gay men.

What does a Staph or CA-MRSA infection look like?

Staph bacteria, including CA-MRSA, can cause skin infections that may look like a pimple or boil. They can be red, swollen, painful, or have pus or other drainage. The risk of spreading the infection to others increases the longer effective treatment is delayed. However, if left untreated CA-MRSA infections may develop into serious, life-threatening complications such as infection of the bloodstream, bones and/or lungs (e.g., pneumonia).

How is a CA-MRSA infection diagnosed?

To diagnose a CA-MRSA infection, a sample from the infected area is taken. Once the sample has been taken, the organism must be allowed to grow in the laboratory. The organism is then tested to determine which antibiotics may be effective for treating the infection.

How is a CA-MRSA infection treated?

If CA-MRSA is detected early, it can usually be treated effectively with antibiotics other than methicillin. It is important that individuals who think they might have a CA-MRSA infection seek advice from a healthcare professional quickly so that the infection can be properly diagnosed and treated effectively. With skin infections caused by CA-MRSA, antibiotics are rarely needed. Once the wound is open and drained of pus, it will normally heal on its own. Early diagnosis also ensures that appropriate measures can be taken to limit the spread of the infection.

Do people die from CA-MRSA infections?

On rare occasions, a CA-MRSA infection can result in life-threatening illness or death. However, most cases are limited to the skin and can be successfully treated.

How can I prevent CA-MRSA skin infections?

In order to prevent these infections, it is important to practise good hygiene. Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water or by using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Make sure that any cuts and scrapes are kept clean and covered until they have healed. It is also important to avoid unprotected contact with other people's wounds or bandages. Finally, do not share personal items such as towels or razors.

Can I get a CA-MRSA infection at sporting events or at the gym?

You may be at an elevated risk of exposure to persons with CA-MRSA at sporting events or at the gym, as these situations involve a greater likelihood of physical contact or contact with surfaces that may be contaminated with CA-MRSA.

During sporting events, athletes are more likely to be exposed to sweat, blood and saliva, which may carry CA-MRSA. The infection can also be picked up from shared equipment like treadmills or mats at the gym if these items are not properly disinfected.

Therefore, it is especially important that good hygiene be practised at sporting events and gyms. Cover any open wounds, avoid sharing personal items, use a barrier between your skin and shared equipment, and clean the surfaces of shared equipment before and after use.

If I have a CA-MRSA skin infection, what can I do to prevent others from getting infected?

To prevent the spread of CA-MRSA skin infections:

  • Cover your wound. Any wounds that are draining or have pus must be kept covered with clean, dry bandages. Pus or other drainage from the wound can contain CA-MRSA, so make sure that the bandages and tape are properly discarded. If you have questions about how to properly care for the wound, talk to your healthcare provider.
  • Wash your hands frequently. This is especially important after changing bandages or touching the infected area. By washing your hands you can stop the transmission of the bacteria.
  • Avoid sharing personal items. Bacteria can be transferred to another person through contact with items such as towels, razors or washcloths. Make sure any soiled clothing is washed; water and regular laundry detergent is sufficient.
  • Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider. Tell them that you have, or have had a CA-MRSA skin infection.

What additional measures can be taken to prevent and control CA-MRSA infections within an athletic setting?

All athletes, whether participating in contact or non-contact sports, should follow the hygiene practices listed below in order to prevent and control CA-MRSA:

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water, especially after using any sports facilities.
  • Wash any cut or break in the skin with soap and water and apply clean, dry dressings on a daily basis.
  • Replace bandages and dressings before and after participation in close contact sports, and after using any sports facilities.
  • Avoid close-contact sports if you have an infection involving drainage (e.g. pus drainage) until the drainage or pus clears and the infected site can be adequately covered with a bandage and clothing.
  • Shower with soap immediately after each practice, game, or match, especially if you participate in sports involving close personal contact (e.g. wrestling and football).
  • Avoid sharing personal items (e.g., towels, washcloths, razors, clothing, or uniforms) that may have had contact with an infected individual or potentially infectious material.
  • Wipe down non-washable gear (e.g. head protectors) with alcohol after each use.
  • Wipe down athletic equipment (e.g. wrestling or gymnastics mats) regularly with an antibacterial solution.
  • Clean surfaces (e.g., counter tops, door handles) with a standard disinfectant on a regular basis.
  • Tell your healthcare provider and appropriate athletic personnel if you currently have CA-MRSA or if you have previously been infected with CA-MRSA.