Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)

About This Disease

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is caused by staph bacteria that are resistant to common antibiotics, such as penicillin and amoxicillin. Staphylococcus aureus, often referred to as “staph” is a type of bacteria commonly found on people’s skin or within their nostrils. Staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infections in the US. It is usually harmless, but can cause infections if it enters the skin through a cut, scrape, or open wound. Most staph skin infections are minor and can be treated without medicine. However, it can cause more serious infections when it invades deeper tissues, the bloodstream, or the lungs, in turn causing pneumonia, bloodstream infections or surgical wound infections.

Signs and Symptoms

Staph bacteria, including MRSA, generally appears as a red bump on the skin that may look like a pimple or boil. It is usually characterized by redness, swelling, pain, have pus or other drainage, and is sometimes accompanied by a fever.


MRSA is spread through skin to skin contact and from direct contact with contaminated people or things carrying the bacteria. Sometimes people can get infected with the staph bacteria that lives on their own skin or within their noses. Staph also lives in saltwater, and swimming or surfing with broken skin can cause an infection. In a healthcare facility, MRSA is usually spread by direct contact with an infected wound or from contaminated hands.


In order to diagnose a MRSA infection, a small skin or open wound discharge sample is needed to perform a laboratory culture. Collecting the bacteria for the culture is a procedure usually done by a doctor or nurse.


Most MRSA infections are treatable with medications prescribed by a healthcare provider. MRSA skin infections may also be treated by draining the wound. If the infection is not getting better with treatment, contact your healthcare provider again, as the bacteria could be resistant to the prescribed medicine.

Risk in Hawaii

Anyone can get MRSA on their body from contact with an infected wound or by sharing personal items, such as towels or razors, that have touched infected skin. MRSA infection risk can be increased when a person is in activities or places that involve crowding, skin-to-skin contact, and shared equipment or supplies. Athletes, students, military personnel and patients who recently had surgery or inpatient care are at higher risk for MRSA infections.

Hospital or nursing home patients who have been treated with antibiotics, have open or slow healing wounds, or invasive medical devices are more at-risk for getting a MRSA infection.

The Department of Health prepares an annual report on specific healthcare-associated infections from select hospitals, which is available here.


  • Most skin infections can be prevented with good hand and body hygiene.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and often with soap and water, or use a hand sanitizer, especially after changing bandages or touching a wound.
  • Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage or dressing until healed.
  • Avoid contact with others open wounds and wounds with drainage.
  • Do not share personal items such as towels washcloths, razors or clothing that may have had contact with an infected wound.
  • Wash sheets, towels and clothing that have become soiled with water and laundry detergent. Drying clothing in a hot dryer, rather than air-drying, will help kill bacteria in clothing.
  • If you are an athlete, or someone who has frequent skin to skin contact with others, be extra careful with your personal hygiene. To learn more, visit: Prevention Information and Advice for Athletes

Additional Resources

Hawaii State Department of Health MRSA Fact Sheets (PDF) :
English | Chuukese | Ilokano | Japanese | Marshallese | Tagalog

Information for Clinicians

Clinicians play a critical role in slowing the spread of MRSA. Rapidly identifying patients colonized or infected with these organisms and placing them on strict Infection Control Precautions when appropriate, using antibiotics wisely, and minimizing invasive device usage are all important parts of preventing MRSA transmission.



Last reviewed August 2022