Most cases of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) start as a localized skin infection. It is important to recognize the symptoms of a bacterial skin infection, because if the infection is caused by MRSA, there is a large chance that the infection can spread to other parts of the body and become life-threatening. The earlier the treatment begins for a MRSA skin infection, the better the prognosis for the patient.
MRSA infects the skin if the bacteria can get into the skin through an open wound, crack or puncture in the skin barrier. Symptoms of MRSA infection of the skin may include a rash, cellulitis, boils, abscesses, carbuncles and impetigo. A rash resulting from MRSA infection may appear as a red, inflamed area or a series of small bumps. Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and superficial underlying connective tissues; cellulitis usually appears as a red, puffy area of skin. Boils are hair follicles that become infected and filled with pus. Pus is a white or yellow fluid composed mainly of cellular debris from bacteria and white blood cells. When pus collects underneath the skin, this is called an abscess. A very large abscess with multiple openings is called a carbuncle. Impetigo is a skin infection caused by Staphyloccoccus aureus bacteria that causes multiple small blisters.
A person with a MRSA skin infection may have one, some or all of the MRSA symptoms described above. These symptoms can also be caused by infections with other species of bacteria, or even a strain of Staphyloccous aureus that is sensitive to methicillin, so it requires a laboratory test to diagnose a MRSA infection. All skin infections should be checked out by a medical professional.
If a MRSA infection spreads internally, it can affect virtually any part of the body, including the heart, lungs, bones and bloodstream. The symptoms of a systemic MRSA infection vary depending on which parts of the body are infected. A person with a MRSA infection in their lungs will develop symptoms of pneumonia, such as a high fever, chills, shortness of breath, coughing and a heavy feeling in their chest. MRSA may cause serious complications such as endocarditis, an infection of the heart muscle, and osteomyelitis, a bone infection. A very small proportion of people with a Staphylococcus aureus infection develop a rapidly-growing skin infection called necrotizing fasciitis. This infection spreads at an alarming pace and causes large areas of skin cells to die (necrose). Another serious complication of MRSA infections that spread is sepsis, which occurs when the bacteria get into the bloodstream. Not only can the bacteria then easily spread to previously unaffected organs, but the immune system has a reaction to the bacteria that causes blood pressure to drop severely. This reaction is called septic shock. If blood pressure drops too low, cardiac arrest and death can occur.
While MRSA does not respond to penicillin and methicillin, there are still some antibiotics that can clear up a MRSA infection. It is important to recognize the symptoms of MRSA and get the infection treated promptly, before it has the chance to spread.