Just three decades ago, few people had heard of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a type of bacteria that\u2019s resistant to many antibiotics.\nBut today, the acronym MRSA can strike fear in anyone who has seen news reports about this potentially life-threatening infection.\nWhile it\u2019s true that some MRSA infections can be serious, you can take steps to keep yourself safe.\nWhat Is MRSA?\nStaphylococcus aureus is a common type of staph bacteria. In fact, it\u2019s on the skin and in the nose in nearly one-third of the general population.\nStaph bacteria can be harmless unless they enter the body, often through:\n\nScrapes\nCuts\nOther small wounds\n\nOnce inside your skin, staph can cause minor infections in healthy people.\nAbout 2 percent of Americans chronically carry MRSA. This type of staph bacteria is the result of antibiotic overuse.\nWhen antibiotic drugs are over prescribed, bacteria have the chance to evolve to resist them. Infections that were once simple to treat can now survive and become much more serious \u2014 even deadly, in some cases.\n\u201cIt\u2019s important to take antibiotics only when necessary. Often your doctor won\u2019t recommend antibiotics, especially for things like viral respiratory infections,\u201d said Rebecca Simcik, DO, Greater Pittsburgh Medical Associates-UPMC.\n\u201cReducing antibiotic use and regular handwashing are two key ways to help prevent MRSA infections,\u201d Dr. Simcik said.\nMRSA Risk Factors and Symptoms\nMRSA can spread from person to person, either through skin-to-skin contact or by sharing personal items, such as towels or razors.\nInfections with these bacteria are more common in areas where people share close quarters, such as:\n\nHospitals\nSchools\nLocker rooms\nMilitary housing\n\nMRSA symptoms\nAs with other staph infections, MRSA infections can cause symptoms such as:\n\nRedness\nSwelling\nPain\nPus\nSkin that feels hot to touch\n\nSome people with MRSA infections mistake them for spider bites.\nBut, you should always call your doctor if you have these symptoms. He or she will need to run tests. Doctors can\u2019t diagnose MRSA infections just by looking at them.\nLeft untreated, MRSA infections can quickly turn into deep abscesses or cause severe, possibly fatal infections of the blood, bone, and organs.\nWith MRSA, Early Care Is Key\nYour doctor can diagnose you with MRSA by testing a tissue or nasal secretion sample.\nIf you have MRSA, your doctor may try to drain the abscess to stop the infection. He or she may also prescribe specialized antibiotics.\nWays to prevent the spread of MRSA\nYou can take steps to control MRSA and prevent it from spreading:\n\nKeep the wound clean and covered until it has healed.\nDon\u2019t try to pop, pick, or drain the sore on your own. You could spread the infection to other parts of your body.\nWash your hands thoroughly and often.\nDon\u2019t share personal items, such as towels, razors, and clothing.\nWash sheets, towels, and clothes with laundry detergent and dry them in a clothes dryer.