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April 15th, 2010
11:55 AM ET

How dangerous is MRSA?

As a feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers' questions. Here's a question for Dr. Gupta.

From Kathleen

“If a person was found to have MRSA cluster in the nose while in the hospital but not given anything for it, how dangerous is it to be around this person and for how long? I was wondering why they didn't give her the antibiotic for it – everything I read on line seems to lean towards MRSA as a ‘forever’ thing. Please help us to know the facts – I worry about my two very young grandchildren catching it if I get it. Thank you so much!”

Answer:

It is tough to give a definitive answer to your question, Kathleen, without knowing more about why the culture was done and whether there were signs of an actual MRSA infection. To help answer your question, a little background about MRSA might help.

MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant staphylcoccus aureus.

"Staph aureus is ubiquitous, it is everywhere," said Dr. Gregory Moran, of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center.

Staph bacteria are very common and do not pose a big threat to most healthy people. In fact, we are exposed to staph on a daily basis. About one-third of us are walking around right now with the bacteria in our nose, and it is not affecting our health, according to Moran.

Keep in mind that there are different strains of MRSA out there. Your concern may stem from the more aggressive strains of MRSA we hear about in community settings – the strains that have proven fatal for some in prisons or among athletes. Those MRSA strains are genetically more toxic than what is typically encountered in hospitals, in addition to being resistant to some of the antibiotics we have to fight them. They most often cause skin infections, but in rare cases the bacteria can penetrate to internal organs, causing an otherwise healthy person to become very ill, and in some cases die.

Hospital-acquired MRSA strains are less dangerous to healthy individuals, but testing for them is common to avoid spreading infection among hospitalized patients with weakened immune systems or during operations. The strain of MRSA that was most likely found in this hospitalized patient would not be expected to cause problems at home. A non-aggressive strain usually would not require an antibiotic, and usually is not dangerous to healthy people.

And that brings us back to the most critical part of your question, Kathleen. Will this MRSA strain detected at the hospital harm your grandchildren? The likelihood is extremely low, however, be on the alert for the telltale first sign of a MRSA infection: a painful skin lesion resembling a pimple or a spider bite. If it crops up for you or your grandchildren, go see your doctor.


soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. William Kayser

    Why is it that the media down plays this epidemic we are facing with the CA-MRSA strain that is so very resistant and infecting more and more healthy people. Isn't it your responsibility to keep us all informed of the reality of the situation? Let us be honest. More people died last year of MRSA than AIDS! In this case ignorance is not bliss. If we don't take a stand now, and inform everyone about the importance of prevention, we will soon find ourselves with an uncontrollable pandemic. Or maybe thats just what THEY want
    Sincerely William Kayser
    http://www.help-for-mrsa-mercer-infections.com

    April 21, 2010 at 01:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Heidi Warner

    An elderly acquaintance was told he was colonized with MRSA thought to be acquired during hospitalization. Some time later he became febrile & was hospitalized with planned treatment with IV Vancomycin. MRSA had invaded the bladder. The decision was made to withdraw treatment due to age. This infection sped up end of life. So, to say hospital-aquired MRSA infections are not serious is untrue.

    April 21, 2010 at 13:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Sedrick

    We were both diagnosed with MRSA last year with major skin infections. After many many different antibiotic's they found the right one. Not after they burned out our veins almost. Both of us were sick. We were in the same hospital and put in quarantine. We where in the same hospital where we got the MRSA in the first place months before. They told us there had been a epedemic in the hospital. We were released but was told we would have it forever. We started Olive leaf oil extract treatment. All of our test have come back negative since this treatment. Media downplays it because it would scare the heck out of people if they knew how bad it was in the states. In effect then the medical system would be at risk and then money.,.,.,.,

    April 22, 2010 at 20:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Tammy

    What does it mean when you get a blood test and one of the results comes back with my Sed Rate being high at 60. I do have a lot of medical problems. I have a liver problems, I'm diabetic, also have a heart condition. My family doctor set me up with a specialist for the Sed Rate but I don't have medical insurance and I'm unemployed and can't afford the office visits of $300.00. I looked up what sed rate means but I'm trying to find out where the infection might have started from, and how does a doctor find this out?

    Thanks

    April 23, 2010 at 09:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. tina

    I feel you under represented the complications of MRSA when it is aquired in a Sports situation it can be quite harmful
    It causes large Lesions and spreads quickly, it is a miserable
    flesh eating disease that often takes combinations of Antibiotics to eradicate the infection, you make it sound less invasive...

    April 23, 2010 at 18:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. william kayser

    I just read a new health article , People found to be colonized ranged from 3 colonies to 15 million in their noses. But they don't know why there is such a big deference between these people. From what I have read the MRSA bacteria doubles ever 7-9 minutes so the longer you are colonized the more colonies you will have. 15 million may sound like a lot, but it's just like the penny analogy ; give a person 1 penny today then 2 tomorrow 4 the next day, double it each day and it like over million so figure in doubling ever 9 minutes and it spreads pretty quick. Now here's another scary thought, MRSA bacteria will live in many place besides the body, door knobs, cabs, the chair your sitting in. Learn how to prevent MRSA from growing around you.

    http://www.help-for-mrsa-mercer-infections.com/allicin.html

    April 24, 2010 at 00:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Blessed

    MRSA is very dangerous and never let your guard down if you have it.

    My family had it and we all could have died from it if we went down the path of using antibiotics. We found a natural antibiotic called Allimed and it pulled us out of the crisis. We haven't had signs of MRSA for years and we recovered completely without further antibiotics or medical care.

    Thank you Dr. Ronald Cutler, biochemist Peter Josling and Norman Bennett for saving my family. You are God's messengers of life!

    April 25, 2010 at 01:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jo

      I had just come back from Cabo and some burning in my throat. Went to ear nose and throat doctor and he took culture and put a scope down nose. Couple of days later I get thec all that I have MRSA. An infection in the nose. I did work out in the gym in Cabo the week before. I am shocked. Now I am afraid that I will end up ruining my immune system and have many side effects from this medication I m on. I have atibiotics cream for nose, once a day, taking vybramycin/generic brand, twice a day for 21 days and also an nebulizer system with 100mg twice per day of tobermycin. I am not on any other medication until this and I am really concerned for my future health. I also will be going to Cle. for holiday and everyone smokes. Will this harm me in any way. I would glady stop this treatmeant if I knew I could rid of it with this Allimed. Where would I purchase this/ Please any advice at this point would be of great help.

      November 22, 2010 at 23:52 | Report abuse |
    • R. Johnson

      My co-worker kept breaking out with these sores all over. he would go to the doctor, they would give him anti-biotics but it would still come back. Finally one doctor diagnosed it as mrsa. My question is how contagious is he to our work enviornment? Should I worry about catching it airborn since he is just over in the next cubicle? How can I be tested to see if I am walking around with it and what can I do to keep from getting it?

      July 17, 2014 at 11:22 | Report abuse |
  8. terrifying

    i contracted the first mrsa infection in a hospital nearly a year ago, and now i have had several hospitalizations since, with skin abcesses occurring in different locations on my body. knowing the particular strain is important, and yet the hospital didn't test for strain specificity. nor did they follow standard protocols in treatment. on one occassion i had a gaping lesion, and they admitted me to a room and administered vancomycin, but never even touched the wound to thouroughly clean it, or pack for proper drainage and healing. the doctors seemed dumbfounded by my questions about what strain i might be infected with. the usa600 strain has a mortality rate that has been reported at 42% within two years of first infection on at least one website. since i don't have health insurance, i guess i don't qualify for full quality medical care. norway has all but eliminated these super-infections from their healthcare settings, through strict protocols, and somehow by NOT using antibiotics. i don't understand what their whole program is, but this is a public health emergency, and nobody is paying attention at thousands of hospitals and dr offices in this country. nurses and other hospital workers are being infected, and becoming vectors themselves, in turn infecting their patients. in eastern europe and russia (particularly in the republic of georgia) bacteriophage therapy is reportedly used with great success when the right phage is matched to the right bacteria, but this is a science that was abandoned with the advent of antibiotics in the west, while the other side of the iron curtain continued to develop and use phages throughout the cold war and into the present. but i can't afford to fly to tiblisi. what will it take to make the healthcare community address this properly?

    May 2, 2010 at 02:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. M Nessen

    I have to go to a funeral of a person who was infected with MRSA and I will have some contact with people who lived with this person. I had hip replacement surgery 3 months ago. How concerned should I be about the odds of contracting MRSA from limited exposure to these persons?

    May 31, 2010 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Marianne

    I went 15-16 years with breakouts and never got diagnosed with staph until a year or two ago. I was finally put on medication and still have numerous outbreaks. My blood pressure/heart rate started sky rocketing and I was hospitalized 2 times last year within a week. They still never found out what was the underlying cause. I started doing research and tried to get a doctor to test me for MRSA. Can someone test negative when they swab your nose and then turn around and test positive off of an abscess?

    November 14, 2011 at 08:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. real writing jobs

    Heya i'm for the primary time here. I came across this board and I in finding It really helpful & it helped me out much. I hope to give one thing again and help others such as you aided me.

    April 7, 2012 at 07:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Daniel Jones

    MRSA is very serious, thankfully treatment is available. http://www.staph-infection-resources.com/mrsa-secrets-revealed.html

    July 24, 2012 at 14:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Robby Gaulke

    Skin lesions can be minimized through the use of acid peels and in the worst cases, it can be reduced by laser exposure. ;',:;

    My personal internet site
    http://www.prettygoddess.com

    October 7, 2012 at 23:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Kamaljit Medhi

    I had a terrible experience with MRSA. In 1999, i suferred from a very bad road accident when my right forearm was crushed by the wheel of a truck. It was so bad that the forarm almost got detached with muscles, bone and tissue everything crushed by the wheel. I was immediately taken to the local hospital and they did a commendable job in restoring blodd supply to the fingers. However, I also had Hepatisits B and MRSA while recupaerating and undergoing treatment. It took two years of hospitalization in an specialized hospital of India and many surgeries complicated by the MRSA infection. I was given vancomycin which made the kidneys to stop work temporarily. It was horrible. With God's grace, today, i am fit and fine and working in a refinery and capable to do all the normal jobs with my hands.

    April 16, 2013 at 06:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Brandie

    I was diagnosed with mersa in my nose in the hospital after having a breathing tube put in my throat, i was given treatment through I.V the whole 3 weeks i was in the hosp when i came home my dr tested me it came back positive so i was given a nasal cream after doing that i was re-tested and still positive,my question is how serious is the mersa if i dont get rid of it??? and should i wear a mask when i go out in public or when im around my kids so they dont catch it,and how easy is it for me to pass it on to my kids???

    November 6, 2013 at 16:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Sue

    I have been advised by 2 different hospitals that MRSA is NOT colonized in my body. However, over the past 13 years, I have had MRSA 14 times (2 times were actually life threatening)! Why, if it's not colonized, am I getting it time and time again?!?? Anybody?????? 😔😔😔

    July 29, 2014 at 09:46 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.