MRSA is a bacterial infection that can spread easily through skin contact, bedding, and towels, most often in a hospital environment. The MRSA bacteria can live harmlessly on the skin, but it can also cause a range of skin-related or cutaneous infections that lead to various symptoms, usually beginning with skin lesions. Later in the disease, other infections may occur, and lesions may or may not persist.
Cellulitis is a skin infection of the deeper layers of the skin and underlying tissue. It can occur anywhere in the body but often affects the lower legs. The skin becomes red, hot, swollen, and tender. In severe cases, cellulitis can cause fever, shaking chills, vomiting and nausea, confusion, and dizziness. An abscess is a painful lump under the skin that produces pus. These common growths do not necessarily point to MRSA but are a common symptom of the disease.
Folliculitis develops when a hair follicle becomes infected and inflamed, and this can be a symptom in MRSA. Folliculitis can occur anywhere on the body where hair grows (almost anywhere but the soles and palms) but is most common on the armpit, neck, and groin. It may look like a rash or pimples and is often quite itchy and tender.
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Furuncles, also called boils, are another infection that afflicts the hair follicle but originate deeper into the skin than folliculitis. These can become bumpy, pus-filled, and red, and are often warm and tender to the touch. A white or yellow dot may appear at the center, indicating pus that needs to drain. Carbuncles are a cluster of boils that can be a sign of MRSA. These are connected under the skin and can be very painful.
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Erysipelas is an infection that often appears as a raised, red, and often shiny rash on the legs, toes, fingers, or arms. It affects the top layer of skin and the lymph nodes. The lesions grow quickly and can have a distinct and raised edge, and a texture similar to the peel of an orange. More than 80% of cases involve the lower extremities and may appear after trauma to an area of the skin or after surgery.
Impetigo causes oozing and weeping sores and blisters that are often itchy, easy to pop, and crust over after they have popped. Impetigo is not always initially obvious. The sores usually start on the arms, leg, face, and lips, then spread to other parts of the body. The condition can also cause the lymph nodes near the affected area to swell.
When MRSA infections go deeper than the top layers of the skin and begin to infect other parts of the body, more serious symptoms can occur and can be fatal. One of these is purpura fulminans. Early on, this sign looks like purpuric rashes -- red or purple spots that do not turn white under pressure. These types of lesions can also start as red, distinct areas, but then become blue-black, signifying tissue death. They can also become painful, dark, raised, and blistered as the tissue dies.
Advanced MRSA can cause pyomyositis, abscesses that form in the skeletal muscle tissue. It usually occurs in the quadriceps or gluteus muscles, although can develop in other large muscles. The affected tissue may become painful and tender, and individuals may feel a firm lump may under the skin. Fever often accompanies the growths. Pyomyositis is more common in tropical countries and in people with weakened immune systems.
Necrotizing fasciitis occurs rarely but can be a sign of MRSA. Also known as flesh-eating bacteria, the infection destroys tissue (a process known as necrosis) just below the skin, as well as muscles and organs. In addition to lesions and flu-like symptoms, the affected individual may experience intense pain seemingly out of proportion to the visible lesions, which may feel wood-like. The skin in the affected areas may be red or purple and as it advances, the areas become swollen and painful. One out of three cases of necrotizing fasciitis is fatal. People who have another illness that suppresses their immune system are most susceptible.
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Pain in the long bones of the legs can be a symptom of MRSA-induced osteomyelitis, a bone infection that also can affect the arms or back. People with osteomyelitis may experience a high temperature in addition to limb pain. They may also have chills or feel warmth, pain, and swelling around the bone. The bacteria usually enter the bone from an open wound, surgery, or injury.
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A person who develops this secondary condition will experience symptoms similar to general pneumonia, such as fever, coughing, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Other symptoms of MRSA pneumonia include low temperature, vomiting and nausea, fatigue, and confusion. Coughing may produce phlegm or pus. This MRSA-induced pneumonia can lead to necrosis.
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