Your MRSA Questions Answered

Dr. Neil Fishman, director of Infection Control at University of Pennsylvania Health System: Good hand hygiene is the best way to prevent the spread of MRSA. You can use either soap and water or an alcohol hand sanitizer. Additionally, always shower after exercising in a gym and never share towels, bar soap or razors.

Question: How quickly does the infection start to show symptoms -- 24 hours or two weeks, a month? What does the sore look like?

Fishman: At the earliest stages, the sores can look like an insect bite. As time goes on, they may look like a pimple or grow to be the size of a boil. If the infection gets more severe, the sore can get red, hot and tender. At later more advanced stages you may develop a fever.

About 30-40 percent of people carry some form of the organism on their bodies, and most people do not develop problems or infections. So it is difficult to say how long it takes for symptoms to appear because you may never show symptoms at all. Once an early sore (which looks like an insect bite) develops it may go away on its own or it may get bigger. If it gets red and hot you should see a doctor. However, it is difficult to predict if this will happen or how long it will take.

Question: My 1-year-old nephew is a carrier of MRSA in his nose. I have a 2-year-old daughter and I am extremely nervous about them playing together. Am I overreacting? What are the chances of transmission among children by playing together?

Fishman: 30-40 percent of the population carry MRSA or some form of staph aureus on their body. Most people never develop any problems. Therefore, we really do not know when we come in contact with the organism. But there is at least a 30 percent chance that we do come in contact with it every day.

Children are at greater risk of passing the organism to one another because they lick things, wipe their noses on their hands and do not wash their hands. I would allow the children to play together because there is no way of knowing who carries MRSA and who doesn't. However, it is reasonable to take some precautions. If your nephew has any draining sores, they should be covered with a bandage. I would also teach your daughter to wash her hands or to use an alcohol hand rub. These can be purchased in any drug store and can be used anywhere.

Tell you daughter it is magic soap -- she puts it on her hands, rubs and it disappears!!

Question: Last year while in the hospital for three weeks due to breast reconstruction surgery I was told I had contracted MRSA. I was also told I was a carrier of it. I was treated with antibiotics and, when sent home, I took a special antibiotic via IV for one week. The issue of MRSA was never discussed by my medical team again, even after I asked several questions.

One year later, the open wound in the area of my right breast has still not healed. This slowness to heal was explained as being because the breast was treated with radiation four years ago while I was being treated for breast cancer. My concern is this: is the slowness to heal and the open wound a result of having MRSA? Am I at risk of spreading this disease and what should I be doing to protect others and myself? I am very concerned.

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