Community College of Rhode Island

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About MRSA on Mass.gov

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Questions and Answers About MRSA*

*Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus

What is MRSA?

MRSA is a kind of bacteria that is resistant to some kinds of antibiotics. To understand MRSA it is helpful to learn about Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, often called “staph,” because MRSA is a kind of staph.

What are staph?

Staph are bacteria commonly carried on the skin or in the nose of healthy people. About 25-30% of the U.S. population carry staph on their bodies at any time.

Do staph always make people sick?

No. Many people carry staph in their nose or on their skin for a period of time and do not know they are carrying them. They do not have skin infections. They do not have any other signs or symptoms of illness. This is called “colonization.”

Sometimes, though, staph can cause an infection, especially pimples, boils and other problems with the skin. These infections often contain pus, and may feel itchy and warm. Occasionally, staph cause more serious infections.

How are staph spread?

Staph are spread by direct skin-to-skin contact, such as shaking hands, wrestling, or other direct contact with the skin of another person. Staph are also spread by contact with items that have been touched by people with staph, like towels shared after bathing and drying off, or shared athletic equipment in the gym or on the field.

Staph infections start when staph get into a cut, scrape or other break in the skin. People who have skin infections—painful, swollen pimples, boils, and rashes, for example—should be very careful to avoid spreading their infection to others.

Is MRSA different from other staph?

Yes. MRSA is different from other staph because it cannot be treated with some antibiotics. When antibiotics are needed to treat a MRSA infection, the right antibiotic must be used. If the right antibiotic is not used, the treatment may not work.

MRSA is just like other staph in almost every other way:

  • MRSA can be carried on the skin or in the nose of healthy people, and usually not cause an infection or make them sick.
  • It can cause minor skin infections that go away without any special medical treatment.
  • It is spread the same way as other staph.
  • The symptoms are the same as other staph infections.

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Last Updated: 7/23/13