When It's Not Just A Spider Bite: Is It MRSA?

If you have a mysterious bump that suddenly appears anywhere on your body, the temptation is to write it off to a spider or similar bite. After all, what can manifest so rapidly, seemingly overnight? Actually, a dangerous type of staph infection, MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), can become visible on the skin in a matter of hours. Read on to learn why it's important to detect this type of bacteria, why you might be infected with it, and what your doctor can do about it.

Why Identification of MRSA Is Important

Knowing whether that weird lesion is MRSA or not is more important than you might think. Certain strains of MRSA can progress very rapidly, and there are even types that cause tissue necrosis--death of tissue that cannot be reversed even with medical treatment.

MRSA can be highly contagious in certain environments, so you don't want to unwittingly pass it on to family members, coworkers, or friends. Staph infections can be particularly devastating to infants, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems. And of course, if you want to eradicate the infection, which can be itchy, painful, or unsightly, you will need medical treatment.

How You May Have Become Infected

You may be surprised to find yourself infected with MRSA, but you shouldn't be. While MRSA used to be only found in hospitals, there are now community-acquired types that can be found in many environments. Be particularly suspicious of MRSA if you meet any of the following criteria:

  • You play sports with shared equipment, such as football pads or fencing masks, or share locker room towels. Skin contact with artificial playing surfaces, such as during football tackles, may also pose a risk.
  • You work in a hospital or healthcare facility.
  • You are employed in certain high-risk professions, like police officer or taxi cab driver, where you're exposed to a large number of people of all health levels on a daily basis.
  • You have recently spent time in a nursing or retirement home.
  • You have been around anyone who has an MRSA infection.

What Your Doctor Will Do If MRSA Is Suspected

Clearly, a visit to your primary care clinic is in order if you think you might have MRSA. If your doctor agrees with your suspicions, you will likely be put on antibiotic treatment (oral and/or topical). Your doctor will also probably take a lab specimen or biopsy to confirm an MRSA diagnosis. If your primary care physician has questions about the results, it's not uncommon for them to ask for a consultation from an infectious disease specialist.

While you are waiting for your lab results, you should take any medications prescribed by your primary care doctor and keep the wound clean. There are natural treatments, like tea tree oil, used by many medical professionals themselves, that can be used as adjuncts to antibiotic treatment and to prevent spreading of the bacteria.

Your physician will want to monitor your progress, and don't be surprised if your treatment protocol changes based on the laboratory results. You may not even have a staph infection, but as the old saying goes, it's better to be safe than sorry.