MRSA, or Methicilin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is the form of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (or “staph”) that is resistant to antibiotics. Originally a disease contracted only in hospitals, it is now originating in the community as well, and has recently been cited as a source of foodborne illness. About one percent of the population carries MRSA, and the disease infects 32 per 100,000 people in the United States. Around 6 in 10,000 people die from it each year.
Sources of MRSA
While MRSA bacteria are usually carried on the human skin and in the nose, recent studies have shown that livestock also carry MRSA, and that it can be transmitted from these animals to farmers and veterinarians, who can then pass it on to other humans. MRSA bacteria have also been shown to be present in retail foods, including pork, beef, and dairy products, although MRSA outbreaks from food contamination are rare.
MRSA infections usually appear as skin or soft tissue infections, such as boils or abscesses. Some people report them looking like a spider bite: red and swollen. However, MRSA skin infections are also painful and can pus or drain.
Symptoms of a MRSA infection from food generally resemble other food poisoning symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps.
Diagnosis of MRSA
MRSA is normally diagnosed by taking a sample from the infected area (the skin, blood, or urine) and sending it to a laboratory.
Foodborne MRSA can be detected through a stool sample.
Staph infections on the skin can be treated by being drained. A laboratory test may also determine that a specific antibiotic can be used to treat a case of MRSA.
Preventing a MRSA Infection
To prevent the spread of MRSA, keep wounds that are draining or have pus clean and covered with a bandage. Wash your hands frequently if you are in close contact with anyone with a staff infection, and do not share personal items such as towels, sheets, or razors with this person.
Since little is known about foodborne MRSA, other than that it is thought to come from food handlers, one should follow general food safety guidelines to prevent the spread of MRSA bacteria. These include:
- Washing your hands with soap and water before handling food
- Wash produce
- Wash anything that has been in contact with raw meat or poultry
- Refrigerate food within two hours of serving
- Use a food thermometer to cook meats to their proper temperature