Bookmark this page

View Printer Friendly PDF Printer Friendly PDF

Facts About...


What is it?

Staphylococcus aureus is a common bacteria that lives in the nose and on the skin of about 25% of healthy people and 70% of the chronically ill. Many years ago these bacteria became resistant to a penicillin-like antibiotic called Methicillin. Unfortunately, some Staphylococcus aureus are no longer killed by this antibiotic or similar antibiotics and are called Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). When this happens, a different antibiotic must be used if a person has an infection. The antibiotic usually used is called vancomycin.

How is it spread?

MRSA is mainly spread hand-to-hand. That is, from an infected or colonized person inadequately washing hands or misusing gloves. Health care workers often spread MRSA during care. MRSA is not airborne. Touching the environment plays a secondary role in spreading MRSA. People can become colonized by touching their contaminated hands to their nose or rectum. Good hand washing can prevent transmission.

How is it treated?

MRSA can go away on its own, but your doctor may order a special antibiotic cream to put into your nose and on any wounds. You may also be asked to wash your body with a special skin antiseptic. If you have an infection your doctor may order an antibiotic such as vancomycin.

How can I protect myself?

Since infections with MRSA can be difficult to treat, preventing the spread to others is very important. Gloves, masks and infection control practices vary depending on the care setting and type of contact required. Good hand washing is the primary measure to prevent spread.

  • Wash your hands, especially after touching a rash, open sore and/or your nose.
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and encourage others to do the same.
  • Articles soiled with pus should be washed in soapy water.
  • Avoid unnecessary antibiotics. If you are prescribed antibiotics, take the medications as prescribed.

More information can be obtained from

Durham Region Health Department, Environmental Help Line 905-723-3818 or 1-888-777-9613

April 22, 2013