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Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus

What is MRSA?
MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus which is a type of “Staph” bacteria. Staph bacteria are one of the most frequent causes of skin infections in the U.S. It is a common cause of hospital-acquired infections. Most of the time these skin infections are minor, but Staph can also cause serious infections.

Who gets MRSA?
Anyone can get MRSA, but it is found most often in hospitalized patients.

What are the symptoms associated with MRSA infection?
MRSA infections can cause a broad range of symptoms depending on the part of the body that is infected. These may include surgical wounds, burns, catheter sites, eye, skin and blood. Infection often results in redness, swelling and tenderness at the site of infection. Sometimes, people may carry MRSA without having any symptoms. When people become infected outside of the hospital, symptoms usually consist of a pimple or boil.

How is it transmitted?
The staph bacteria are generally spread through direct contact with a person who is infected with or carrying the organism. Occasionally, MRSA may be spread by contact with surfaces or objects.

How long can an infected person carry MRSA?
Some people can carry MRSA for days to many months, even after their infection has been treated.

How are MRSA infections diagnosed?
MRSA infections can be diagnosed when a doctor obtains a sample or specimen from the site of infection and submits it to a laboratory. The laboratory places the specimen on a special "culture" plate containing nutrients, incubates the plate in a warmer and then identifies the bacteria. The final step is for the laboratory to conduct tests using various antibiotics to determine if the bacteria are resistant (able to withstand or tolerate) or sensitive (susceptible to killing) to select antibiotics.

Can MRSA be treated?
Yes, MRSA can be treated. It is resistant to certain types of antibiotics which makes it more difficult to treat. But there are other antibiotics that are still able to kill the MRSA bacteria. Treatment may also include draining the boil/abscess by a healthcare provider.

What is the treatment for MRSA?
Most MRSA infections are treated with basic wound care. More severe cases can usually be treated with an antibiotic called vancomycin. Newer antibiotics are being developed to address this problem.

Is MRSA new?
MRSA bacteria are not new, but infections caused by MRSA are increasing among certain groups of people such as hospital patients, prisoners, nursing home residents, children attending day care, athletes, military recruits and people with weak immune systems. These are groups of people that either live in close contact with each other, people who have direct skin contact with each other or share equipment or personal items.

How is MRSA spread?
Staph bacteria, including MRSA, are almost always spread by direct physical contact. Staph bacteria are not spread through the air. The bacteria can also spread when people come into contact with objects that have been contaminated with the bacteria. These objects include towels, clothing, bedding, gym or sports equipment, soiled bandages, bars of soap, contaminated surfaces, etc.

How can the spread of MRSA be controlled?
Careful hand washing is the single most effective way to control spread of MRSA. Heath care workers should wash their hands after contact with each patient. If the patient is known to have an MRSA infection, the health care worker should wear disposable gloves. Depending on the type of contact, a gown should also be worn. Patients must also wash their hands to avoid spreading the bacteria to others. 

In addition you should practice good hygiene daily:

  1. Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water or using an alcohol based hand sanitizer
  2. Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed
  3. Avoid contact with other people’s wound or bandages
  4. Avoid sharing items such as towels, soap or razors
Are there any cases of MRSA in NJ now?
Since single cases of MRSA are not reportable in New Jersey, we do not have statistics on the exact number of MRSA cases in New Jersey. However, we do know there are cases occurring throughout New Jersey, just like there are cases occurring throughout the rest of the country. 

Approximately 30% of the general population is colonized with S. aureus with 1% colonized with MRSA, which means the “Staph” bacteria can live in their nose or on their skin without causing an infection. As such, we expect to see a certain number of MRSA cases in NJ, just like the rest of the country and throughout the world.

Are MRSA infections reported to health authorities?
Doctors, schools, correctional facilities and other entities are required by New Jersey Administrative Code to report suspected outbreaks of any disease, including MRSA, to the local health department within their jurisdiction. An outbreak is defined as two or more laboratory-confirmed cases diagnosed in the same time period and same location. 

In addition, Governor Corzine signed a bill requiring hospitals to report cases of MRSA to the NJ State Health Department.

What about contact with carriers?
If basic hygiene precautions are followed, MRSA carriers are not a hazard to others including their family and friends.

Where can I get more information?

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Health Department

43 Schooley's Mountain Road
Long Valley, NJ 07853

Phone: 908-876-3650

Business Hours for the Washington Township Health Department are:
Monday to Friday, 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM

June – August Hours
Monday to Thursday, 7:30 AM to 5:00 PM


Christina Cooke-Gibbs, Public Health Officer
Health Department e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.