Q. I share an apartment with another woman. She was told by her doctor that she has a MRSA skin infection. What’s MRSA? Do I need to take an antibiotic?
A: MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. It’s a type of Staph bacteria.
When antibiotics were first invented, penicillin could kill this germ. But then it developed resistance to penicillin. That means penicillin could no longer kill it. A newer antibiotic called methicillin was developed that could kill penicillin-resistant Staph. But the bacteria developed resistance to methicillin, too.
MRSA behaves much like other Staph. It usually exists in the nose or on the skin without causing disease. But all Staph bacteria have the potential to cause trouble, from boils and other mild skin infections to life-threatening lung and blood infections.
There are things you and your roommate can do to prevent MRSA from getting onto surfaces in your home, onto your skin and in your nose. But taking an antibiotic is not one of them; that won’t be effective. And it could lead to you carrying an even more resistant bug.
Here are some preventive tips for both of you:
1. Wash your hands often and thoroughly throughout the day with soap and water.
2. Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer, for times when you can’t wash your hands.
3. Don’t share personal items such as razors, towels, sheets and athletic clothing or equipment.
4. Keep cuts or scrapes clean. Cover them with a bandage.
5. Shower after you work out.
6. Wash your gym clothes every time you wear them.
7. Wash sheets and towels in hot water. Dry them in a hot dryer.
Dr. Howard LeWine is an internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Mass., and chief medical editor of Internet publishing at Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School.