You wash your hands often and take regular showers. But, like millions of other people, you may have harmless staph, or Staphylococcus aureus, bacteria living on your skin. Sometimes, staph bacteria get into your body through a cut or wound, causing minor skin problems. Most infections appear as a bump on the skin that may be red, swollen, painful or warm and can be treated with antibiotics. But healthcare providers are seeing more and more cases of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. It’s called a “superbug” because it’s antibiotic-resistant, meaning it doesn’t respond to the antibiotics that are usually used to cure staph infections. Although most MRSA infections aren’t serious, some can affect the heart, blood or bone, causing major illness and even death.
MRSA outbreaks, previously thought to occur only among hospital patients, are spreading among otherwise healthy people, such as children in day care centers, people in the military and athletes who share equipment or personal belongings. Those who get tattoos are also at higher risk.
Take the following precautions to prevent MRSA infection and the spread of germs:
Wash your hands often. Scrub your hands for at least 15 seconds, then dry with a disposable towel. Use another towel to turn off the faucet. Use a hand sanitizer that has at least 60 percent alcohol if soap and water aren’t available.
Don’t share. Avoid sharing towels, sheets, razors, clothes and athletic equipment, as they can spread the infection.
Watch what you touch. MRSA lives on objects and surfaces such as doorknobs, hand rails and pencils, so contamination and germs can spread rapidly from these commonly shared areas and through direct personal contact.
Cover wounds. Keep cuts clean and under wraps. The fluid from sores may contain MRSA, but covering them with sterile, dry bandages will help keep bacteria from spreading.
Shower after sports. Shower immediately after workouts, games or practices.
Sanitize your stuff. If you have a cut, wash your towels and bed linens in a washing machine in hot water (with bleach, if possible) and dry them in a hot dryer. Wash athletic clothes after each use.
Use antibiotics properly. Whenever you’re sick and your healthcare provider prescribes an antibiotic, finish it even if you feel better, unless he or she tells you otherwise.