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Medically reviewed by Anju Goel, MD, MPH

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of bacteria that has become resistant to the antibiotic methicillin, and oftentimes other antibiotics as well. Antibiotic resistance makes MRSA infections more difficult to treat, which can contribute to it becoming a more dangerous disease. MRSA infections most frequently involve the skin but can affect other parts of the body like joints, bones, the lungs, the heart, and the bloodstream.

The symptoms of a MRSA infection will vary depending on where in the body the bacteria are located. For example, MRSA in the skin may present as a bump or pimple-like sore that becomes more painful and swollen over time. MRSA pneumonia, on the other hand, presents with symptoms like cough, difficulty breathing, and fatigue.

Symptoms of MRSA can be similar or identical to infections caused by other bacteria in that part of the body, so it is important to seek out your healthcare provider to confirm if you have a MRSA infection.

Skin Symptoms

MRSA commonly affects the skin as well as the soft tissue under the lowest layer of skin. An infection of this tissue is known as cellulitis.

A MRSA skin infection can start as a bump on the skin that is sometimes mistaken for a spider bite, or the infection can start in an existing wound or injury.

Symptoms of MRSA in the skin or soft tissue can include:

  • Increased redness around the affected area

  • The skin becomes swollen and painful

  • The affected area is warm to the touch compared to the surrounding skin

  • The affected area may contain pus or other fluids

  • You may develop a fever

MRSA Is Contagious

MRSA can easily spread from person to person, even without touching each other. Bacteria can live on many surfaces, including clothing and shared spaces like the shower. If you have a MRSA infection on your skin, it is very important to keep it covered and to regularly wash your hands with soap, as well as disinfect areas the bacteria may have come into contact with.


Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Bacterial pneumonia, which can be caused by MRSA, can develop either gradually or all of a sudden. Common signs and symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • Fevers including the sweating, shaking, and chills associated with them

  • Coughing, which may produce yellow or green mucus

  • Rapid shallow breathing

  • Increased heart rate

  • Shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing

  • Decreased appetite

  • Lack of energy or tiring from activity quicker than normal

  • Sharp or stabbing pain when taking a deep breath or coughing

  • Confusion, which most commonly affects older adults

Bone and Joint Symptoms

Staphylococcus aureus is the leading cause of bone and joint infections. The bacteria can travel to the bone or joint from a wound or through the bloodstream. Most frequently MRSA affects the spine and the long bones of the arms and legs. Bone infections can also spread into nearby joints. MRSA can affect both natural and prosthetic joints.

Symptoms for infection in the bones and joints can be similar to MRSA pneumonia symptoms and often include:

  • Fever, chills, and shaking

  • Redness and swelling around the affected area

  • Pain around the affected area

  • Increased fatigue


Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of your heart tissue. It can be caused by a variety of microorganisms, including MRSA. Endocarditis is a very serious type of infection; about 25% of people die within six months.

Endocarditis can be treated with antibiotics and treatment should begin as soon as possible after diagnosis. Symptoms can develop slowly, with the only symptom being a fever that persists for months. However, symptoms can also begin abruptly with a high, intermittent fever. Other symptoms are:

  • Fatigue or malaise

  • Muscle pain—especially abdominal pain

  • Joint pain

  • Headache

  • Shortness of breath, also called dyspnea

  • Night sweats

  • Weight loss

Bacteremia and Sepsis

Bacteremia is when bacteria is present in the bloodstream. It is a particularly dangerous type of infection because bacteria in the blood can travel to other parts of the body like the heart and bones. Bacteremia can sometimes be present without symptoms, but it can also turn into sepsis, which is a medical emergency.

Symptoms of sepsis include:

  • Rapid heart rate or weak pulse

  • Becoming confused or disoriented

  • Extreme discomfort or pain

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath

  • Fever, chills, or shaking

  • Sweaty or clammy skin

When to See a Healthcare Provider

MRSA is a serious infection that requires medical treatment. If you recognize any of these signs and symptoms and think you could had a MRSA infection you should see your medical provider right away. If you recognize the signs of bacteremia or sepsis in yourself or a loved one you should seek emergency services as this could be a life-threatening emergency.

A Quick Review

MRSA is a type of bacteria that causes infections that can be more difficult to treat due to antibiotic resistance. MRSA can have different symptoms depending on where in your body the infection is located. These symptoms can be similar to symptoms of infection caused by other bacteria, so it is important to see your healthcare provider to confirm a diagnosis and start treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long is a person contagious with MRSA?

Someone with MRSA is contagious as long as the bacteria are present in their body. Some people carry MRSA on their bodies without any symptoms of infection, which is called being "colonized." Your risk of transmitting MRSA to someone else is much higher if you have a draining wound than if you are colonized.

What is the difference between sepsis and MRSA?

MRSA is a type of bacteria that can cause infections. Sepsis is an extreme reaction your body may put up in the face of extensive infection. MRSA infection may lead to sepsis, but sepsis can be caused by many different type of infections.

Are you a MRSA carrier for life?

Most people who get a MRSA infection do not become carriers, or "colonized." More research is needed to determine how best to eradicate MRSA from people who are colonized. However, there are some studies out there that indicate it is possible, at least under certain circumstances, to get rid of the bacteria.

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