MRSA-Environmental Health & Safety - Carnegie Mellon University


MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus) has become a serious source of infection . Treatment is difficult, making prevention of this infection vitally important. The following facts are offered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to aid you in keeping yourself safe.

What are the symptoms and treatment of MRSA?

MRSA is a skin infection that usually appears as a pustule or boil. It may be red, swollen, and painful, and it is often accompanied by pus or other drainage. These usually appear in or around cuts and abrasions, or areas of the body covered by hair. Those who have compromised immune systems may also develop pneumonia, bloodstream infections, or bone infections, although these symptoms are rare in healthy individuals. Treatment usually consists of drainage of the pus, and antibiotics may or may not be required. For those with additional infections such as pneumonia, treatment is expanded.

How is MRSA transmitted?

MRSA usually is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact or contact with shared items, such as towels. Five factors have been identified as aiding in the transmission. These factors are often identified as the Five C's:

  • Crowding (such as that found in schools, dorms, daycare centers, crowded buses, or homes). 
  • Contact (contact sports such as football and wrestling, sharing towels) . Compromised skin (cuts, abrasions)
  • Compromised skin (cuts, abrasions) 
  • Contaminated items (again, towels or other shared items, surfaces where the bacteria has been deposited, such as desk tops, tables, etc.)
  • Lack of cleanliness (failure to promptly remove bacteria through hand washing, etc.)

How can I protect myself?

  • The best protection is good hygiene. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Shower immediately after exercise, and don't share towels or clothing. 
  • Cover any type of skin trauma, including minor cuts or abrasions. Use a clean dry bandage until the skin is healed. 
  • Use a barrier (e.g., clothing or a towel) between your skin and any shared equipment, such as weight-training benches. 
  • Clean surfaces frequently that may come into contact with the skin.

Should the university be closed until the threat is over?

Closing the university is an extreme reaction that is generally not recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Simple preventive measures such as those outlined above are usually sufficient to keep the infection under control.

Likewise, cleaning and disinfection can be done while normal activities are continuing. This is not an air-borne illness, and only is transmitted by direct contact. As already mentioned, cleanliness and good hygiene, accompanied by common sense (e.g., covering open wounds) are generally sufficient to keep the illness under control and prevent its spread.

I have a MRSA infection. What do I have to do to keep from spreading it?

Unless directed by a physician, it is not necessary for infected individuals to stay home from work or class. The exception to that suggestion is someone who has a draining wound that cannot be covered and contained with a clean, dry bandage, or those who, for some reason, can not maintain good personal hygiene.

Anyone with an active infection should avoid activities where there is a possibility of skin-to-skin contact until the infection is healed. This would preclude students from participating in contact sports while infected.

Personal items such as towels, razors, washcloths, clothing, or uniforms should not be shared. Sheets, towels, and clothing should be washed with water and laundry detergent, then dried in a clothes dryer.

Anyone who must treat infected persons should follow universal precautions (gloves, hand washing before and after contact, and gowns, masks, and eye protection if there is danger of splashing of body fluids).

For more information on MRSA see the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control website at

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