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HomeHealth TopicInfections

The Best Treatments for MRSA Infections

Tracy Norfleet, MD, MBA, FACP, ABOMPatricia Pinto-Garcia, MD, MPH
Updated on May 15, 2023

Key takeaways: 

  • There are many antibiotics that can treat MRSA skin infections, including Bactrim and clindamycin. 

  • The best antibiotic for MRSA infections depends on the location and severity of the infection.

  • Getting rid of MRSA can be tough. To prevent spreading MRSA, wash your hands often and keep your skin infection covered until it heals. 

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Methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA) is a superbug that can be difficult to treat. This is because it is resistant to many types of antibiotics. But there are many treatments for MRSA that can fight off these tough infections. Let’s take a look at some of the best antibiotics for MRSA. 

What is MRSA?

MRSA is a bacteria that can evade common antibiotics. This makes it tougher to treat when it causes an infection.

People used to come in contact with MRSA in healthcare settings like hospitals and long-term-care facilities. Now, though, MRSA is everywhere. 

Many people carry MRSA on their skin and in their noses. When the bacteria gets into the body, it can lead to infections like skin infections and abscesses, which are collections of pus beneath the skin. It can also lead to other illnesses. 

Some antibiotics won’t work against MRSA. Knowing whether or not your infection is from MRSA allows you to start on the right antibiotic sooner. This gives you the best chance of fighting off your infection as soon as possible. 

What are the best treatments for MRSA?

The best treatment for an MRSA infection is antibiotics. 

But the best antibiotic for MRSA infection depends on the type and severity of your infection. There are oral and intravenous (IV) antibiotics that treat MRSA:

  • In general, oral antibiotics are the best choice for mild or moderate infections like skin infections and abscesses. 

  • But IV antibiotics are the best choice for severe MRSA infections like pneumonia and blood infections. 

Below are some commonly prescribed antibiotics for MRSA infections.

1. Bactrim (sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim)

Bactrim (sulamethoxazole/trimethoprim) is an oral antibiotic that treats MRSA skin infections. It’s typically taken twice a day. 

Bactrim can treat other types of bacteria too. Since it’s an older antibiotic, it’s available as a generic medication at a low cost. It’s a popular treatment option for UTIs (urinary tract infections) and other common infections. That means pharmacies always carry it. So, if you need Bactrim to treat an MRSA infection, you should be able to easily get it at your local pharmacy. 

Common side effects of Bactrim are:

  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea

  • Rash and hives

  • Headaches and dizziness

Bactrim can also lead to rare but potentially serious side effects like:

Bactrim is also available in IV form for more serious infections.

2. Clindamycin

Clindamycin is another common oral antibiotic that can treat MRSA skin infections and other common infections like strep throat and pneumonia. It’s typically taken 4 times a day. It’s available as a generic at a low cost. 

Common side effects of clindamycin include nausea and vomiting. Clindamycin can also trigger C. difficile infections, which cause diarrhea and stomach pain. 

Clindamycin is also available in IV form. The oral form of clindamycin is almost as strong as the IV form. This makes it a good choice for people with different types of MRSA infections. 

3. Doxycycline

Doxycycline is an oral antibiotic that can treat some MRSA infections. It is usually taken twice a day. It’s a generic medication that is widely available at a low cost. Doxycycline should not be used by children younger than 8 years old because it can stain their developing adult teeth. 

Common side effects from doxycycline include upset stomach, nausea, and vomiting. Doxycycline also makes your skin more sensitive to sunburn. If you’re taking doxycycline, make sure to wear extra sunscreen.

4. Minocycline

Minocycline is an oral antibiotic that’s very similar to doxycycline. It is usually taken by mouth twice a day when used to treat MRSA infections. It is available as a generic medication. But it’s not as commonly prescribed to treat MRSA and other infections. That means it’s not always as easy to find as doxycycline, clindamycin, and Bactrim. 

Common side effects of minocycline include upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea. Like doxycycline, it also increases the risk of sunburn.

5. Vancomycin

Vancomycin is one of the most powerful antibiotics in the world. It’s available in both oral and IV forms. But it’s only used as an oral medication in very specific circumstances. For MRSA treatment, people usually get the IV form of vancomycin. Vancomycin is reserved for very serious infections and can only be used in a hospital setting. 

Vancomycin is used at the lowest possible dose for the shortest amount of time possible. This helps avoid antibiotic resistance, which is when a bacteria becomes immune to an antibiotic.

Vancomycin can cause side effects like flushing, redness, and kidney injury. 

6. Linezolid

Linezolid is available in both oral and IV forms. But most people who need to take linezolid receive the IV form. It’s used to treat serious MRSA infections. 

Linezolid may work better than vancomycin to treat some types of MRSA infections, like MRSA pneumonia. It is also less likely to cause kidney injury. This makes it a better antibiotic for people who have an MRSA infection and a history of kidney disease. Linezolid sometimes works to treat MRSA infections when other antibiotics have failed. So, like vancomycin, it’s used only for serious infections. 

Are there topical treatments for MRSA skin infections?

There are topical treatments for MRSA. But these topical treatments help lower the number of bacteria that live on people’s skin. They don’t treat MRSA infections. Two examples of topical treatments for MRSA are listed below.

Mupirocin (Centany)

Mupirocin (Centany) is an antibiotic ointment. It’s only available with a prescription. It can treat mild cases of impetigo, a highly contagious skin infection. But it isn’t strong enough to treat MRSA infections. 

Sometimes, people use mupirocin before surgery to lower the amount of bacteria on their skin or in their nose. The hope is that this will lower the risk of someone developing infection after surgery, especially after cardiothoracic and orthopedic surgery

Chlorhexidine gluconate soap

Chlorhexidine gluconate soap is an antibacterial liquid soap that may help prevent MRSA infections. It is not used to treat skin infections. 

People are sometimes asked to use it for a few days before surgery to lower the amount of MRSA that lives on their skin. Healthcare workers also use chlorhexidine for handwashing so they don’t pass MRSA to others. Chlorhexidine shouldn’t be used for normal day-to-day handwashing. 

If you need to use chlorhexidine liquid soap before a surgery, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t use it at the same time as other soaps. This can lower its effectiveness.

  • Try not to get chlorhexidine in your eyes and ears. If any gets into your eyes or ears, rinse the area with cool water for 5 minutes. 

  • Using bleach afterward to clean up can cause staining. Don’t use bleach to wash any clothing or towels that touch your skin after you use chlorhexidine soap. Combining bleach and chlorhexidine will cause permanent brown staining. After you’ve washed your towels and clothes a few times with regular laundry soap, all the chlorhexidine should be gone. Then you can use bleach again. 

How can you prevent MRSA infections from spreading?

If you are diagnosed with a MRSA infection, you should try to prevent the spread of MRSA to other parts of your body and to other people. Some things you can do include:

  • Don’t touch or scratch your skin infection.

  • Keep your wound covered with a clean, dry bandage until it heals.

  • Wash your hands anytime you touch your wound or change dressing. 

  • Do not share personal items like towels, washcloths, deodorant, cosmetics, brushes, toothbrushes, or razors with others.

  • Wash your clothes before letting others wear them.

The bottom line

MRSA is a superbug. It can cause skin infections and other more serious infections. Not all antibiotics work against MRSA infections. For mild to moderate MRSA infections, popular antibiotic treatments include Bactrim and clindamycin. For more serious MRSA infections, people need IV antibiotics like vancomycin or linezolid. 


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. (2022). Decolonization of non-ICU patients with devices

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) general information.

GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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