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What is MRSA Colonization?

Nicole Madison
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) colonization means a person is carrying antibiotic-resistant bacteria that cause an infection called MRSA. A person who is colonized with MRSA may have the bacteria on his skin or even inside his nasal passage. He is not infected with it, however, and does not show the typical signs of infection. Though a person with MRSA colonization is not infected with the bacteria, it is possible for him to spread the bacteria to others, and he may eventually develop an infection himself. Anyone may be colonized with the bacteria, but hospital workers may be more at risk.

MRSA is a very serious infection that typically starts out as small blemishes that look like pimples or boils. Eventually, however, they may develop into deep sores that cause a great deal of pain. In some cases, the infection spreads, and the unlucky victim develops infection in his bones, heart, lungs, or even his bloodstream. Unfortunately, the antibiotics that are usually used to treat bacterial infections may prove ineffective when MRSA is involved, and doctors must try other alternatives; this may involve draining the infection instead of or in addition to treating it with drugs. A MRSA-infected person has symptoms of the disease, but a person who is colonized with the infection does not.

A person with MRSA colonization does not have MRSA and does not need treatment for infection. In many cases, however, an individual who is colonized with the staph bacteria may be treated anyway. This is due to the fact that he may be more likely to develop MRSA because of the colonization. Likewise, he may be able to spread the bacteria to others who are neither colonized nor infected.

Many people who are MRSA colonized have the bacteria in their nostrils. The bacteria may, however, appear in other places as well. For example, a person may be MRSA colonized in his respiratory tract, in sores, in the groin area, and in his urinary tract. The skin, even where it is unbroken or unmarred by sores, is also a frequent site for colonization with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Even the rectum may be a site of MRSA colonization.

Interestingly, MRSA colonization may not always cause infection. A person may be colonized for a short period, such as a few weeks, or years at a time. It is difficult, if not impossible, to predict when and if colonization will give way to infection.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By rugbygirl — On Dec 14, 2011

@dfoster85 - I think it's just that the bacteria haven't found the right wound yet. In MRSA nasal colonization, for instance, the bacteria are just hanging out, enjoying the nice, warm, moist environment, but not able to find a way in.

Most healthy people, whether they get colonized or not, will be able to stay healthy by being normally cautious, especially if they get a scratch or small cut (wash it, maybe cover with a bandaid or that miraculous stuff, liquid bandage). And be careful at the gym! Wash your hands a lot, ideally take a shower and change clothes before you leave. And whatever you do, *do not* get a pedicure if you have a cut on your legs or feet! And don't shave your legs first, either.

I like your suggestion to make sure that medical personnel always wash their hands. Goes for the doctor's office, too. You have the right to be kept healthy. People (especially women) are too worried about being polite and not worried enough about staying safe!

By dfoster85 — On Dec 14, 2011

Colonization of MRSA is part of how people pick up MRSA in hospitals. You go in to get better, and instead you get sicker!

When a new person enters your room in the hospital--and it will happen *a lot*--you should see them wash their hands. If you don't see them wash or use hand sanitizer, ask them to. Don't worry about offending them! Your health comes first. (Remember, childbed fever was spread for decades by doctors who felt that they were already pretty clean and did not need to wash their hands special before examining each and every laboring patient.)

I'm guessing that colonization happens when a person is exposed to MRSA but does not have a convenient sore for it to infect? Or does it have to do with the person's immune system?

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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