How to distinguish an insect bite from a MRSA infection

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It is not uncommon to hear people complain about spider bites , even if they have never seen a spider or any other insect.

This is not an unfair assumption, since the rash may not be particularly common, the person may not have a history of contact allergies, and the outbreak itself may include pimple pustules rather than the types of rash associated with eczema, allergies, or infections .

The only sign of a spider bite is anything other than a pustule , a small pimple, or a pus-filled boil. Although a spider bite can fill with fluid, the pus is usually not affected.

While pus may indicate an acne breakout, it may be a more serious condition called community-acquired methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus ( MRSA).

Illustration by Jessica Olah, Get Meds Info

Understanding MRSA

MRSA is a bacteria that causes serious and sometimes life-threatening infections of the skin and other organs. It used to be a problem that only occurred in hospitals where the widespread use of antibiotics has led to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

However, in recent years, MRSA can often be found in public places like schools, gyms, spas, and even nail salons.

Symptoms of MRSA can vary depending on where it is infected. In most cases, this causes a mild skin infection, such as an ulcer or a boil. In other cases, it can cause a more serious infection that spreads to the bloodstream and damages the lungs, urinary tract, and other major organ systems.

Because MRSA is so difficult to cure, it is sometimes called a "superbug." In total, about 1% of the population has MRSA, although most are latent carriers.

Symptoms of insect and spider bites

Symptoms of a spider bite can vary from person to person, as well as the type of insect. Spider bites usually result in fluid-filled blisters that can burst and cause an open sore to develop.

Several individual bites are possible, usually localized as a red or purple discoloration of the surrounding skin. Although pus usually does not form in the blister, it can occur when the blister is open and ulcerated.

For other types of insect bites , the following characteristics are characteristic:

  • Mosquito bites cause redness and swelling of the skin.
  • Flea bites can appear as multiple red bumps surrounded by a red halo. They itch and occur mainly around the feet and lower extremities.
  • Chigger bites appear as scars, blisters, or hives, most often in skin folds or where clothing is tight against the skin.
  • Tick bites are usually unique. If you develop a red rash that spreads around the site of a tick bite, you should see your doctor for an evaluation of possible Lyme disease. They may be accompanied by a painful burning sensation, but most of the time they are not felt or even not noticed.
  • Bed bug bites often appear in a line or group with a dark red center .
  • Lice bites mainly occur on the scalp.

MRSA against spider bites

There are two main symptoms that will help you distinguish between a spider bite and MRSA:

  • A fluid-filled blister (spider) versus a pus-filled blister (MRSA)
  • One or more lesions (spider) versus multiple lesions (MRSA)

If it's MRSA, a small group of pustules often coalesce into a larger, expanding mass of pus, which is rarely the case with insect bites.

When to call your healthcare provider

When in doubt, call your doctor, who can diagnose MRSA with a simple culture of pus or tissue. Treatment generally includes the use of oral antibiotics such as trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole and doxycycline. On occasion, surgical drainage of the abscess may be necessary.

Improper or delayed treatment can lead to life-threatening complications or even death.

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