You've probably heard about the dreaded MRSA infection, which has been spreading its way through hospitals and the general community. Thanks to the tiny Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria, a simple cut can turn into a serious infection. What's worse, some staph infections don't respond to many common antibiotics.
Staph infections typically spread from human to human. You can pick one up if you share a personal item -- like a razor or towel -- with a friend who has the infection and you have an open wound. MRSA starts with small bumps that look like little pimples on the skin. If the infection isn't treated, it can lead to a deeper wound that can spread to the bloodstream and organs.
Humans also can catch MRSA from their cats and dogs, but only after these animals pick up the bacteria from us. Staphylococcus bacteria colonize in the animal's mouth. If that animal bites a person, the bacteria get into the person's body through the open bite wound.
Staphylococcus isn't the only kind of bacteria that can be transmitted through an animal bite. About 30 different bacteria can spread from pets to humans, including Pasteurella, Streptococcus,Fusobacterium, and Capnocytophaga, all of which can cause serious infections.
To ensure that you don't get bitten and wind up with an infection -- staph or otherwise --it's best to avoid any dogs or cats you don't know. If you do get bitten, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water, or an antiseptic. Call your doctor, especially if the wound is deep. You might need antibiotics to treat it.