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Infectious Disease Fact Sheet: MRSA

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus

Staphylococcus  bacteria (or staph) are commonly carried on the skin or in the nose of healthy individuals. Staph is spread by close contact either through direct physical contact with an infected individual or by touching objects (e.g., benches, towels, clothing, sports equipment) contaminated with the bacteria. MRSA is a type of bacterial infection caused by Staphylococcus aureus that is resistant to methicillin, an antibiotic commonly used to treat staph infection. 

Initially found primarily in hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care settings, numerous MRSA cases have occurred in recent years in athletic settings. College and university cases have generally been among players of sports where skin-to-skin contact or sharing of equipment is common, such as football, wrestling, lacrosse, and fencing. Schools in the news with MRSA cases include large universities such as the University of North Carolina and the University of Georgia, and colleges such as Bowdoin and Amherst. We have had cases at Hampshire, though causality was not readily established.

MRSA is highly contagious and can cause bloodstream infections, pneumonia, and in extreme cases death; cases at schools include at least 2 deaths.

MRSA causes a skin infection that may resemble a pimple, boil, or other lesion. The skin may be red, warm, swollen, tender, or have drainage. The lesion drainage is very infectious. Skin infections that are left untreated can develop into more serious life-threatening infections of the lungs, blood, or bone. Symptoms of these infections include: difficulty breathing, malaise, fever, or chills. Some individuals may have staph colonies, including MRSA, on the skin and not have any symptoms. These individual act as carriers for the bacteria. 

To prevent MRSA infection and act quickly to treat it if it occurs, the following precautions are necessary.

Athletic Hygiene

  • Wipe down all equipment are surfaces with cleaner after use.
  • Shower and wash with soap and water after all workouts, practices, and competitions.
  • Wash hands regularly with soap and hot water.
  • Do not share towels, razors, water bottles, or athletic gear.
  • Sit on a towel on locker room or sauna benches.
  • Cover cuts and abrasions.
  • Avoid scratching scabs or rashes.
  • Wash towels, clothing etc. in hot water and detergent.

First Aid

  • Always practice universal precautions when providing first aid; use of gloves is particularly important.
  • Do not touch objects with potentially contaminated gloves.
  • Always wash hands after removing gloves.
  • Always change gloves and wash hands between patients.


  • Encourage students to report pimples or lesions to the coach, instructor, or health services.
  • Send students to health services for evaluation, particularly if they have a lesion with any drainage.

If you have any questions, please contact environmental health and safety (ext. 6620), or health services (ext. 5458).

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