Meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is an important cause of infection, particularly in hospitalized patients and those with significant healthcare exposure. In recent years, epidemic community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) infections occurring in patients without healthcare risk factors have become more frequent. The most common manifestation of CA-MRSA infection is skin and soft tissue infection, although necrotizing pneumonia, sepsis and osteoarticular infections can occur. CA-MRSA strains have become endemic in many communities and are genetically distinct from previously identified MRSA strains. CA-MRSA may be more capable colonizers of humans and more virulent than other S. aureus strains. Specific mechanisms of pathogenicity have not been elucidated, but several factors have been proposed as responsible for the virulence of CA-MRSA, including the Panton-Valentine leukocidin, phenol-soluble modulins and type I arginine catabolic mobile element. The movement of CA-MRSA strains into the nosocomial setting limits the utility of using clinical risk factors alone to designate community- or healthcare-associated status. Identification of unique genetic characteristics and genotyping are valuable tools for MRSA epidemiological studies. Although the optimum pharmacological therapy for CA-MRSA infections has not been determined, many CA-MRSA strains remain broadly susceptible to several non-β-lactam antibacterial agents. Empirical antibacterial therapy should include an MRSA-active agent, particularly in areas where CA-MRSA is endemic. © 2009 Adis Data Information BV. All rights reserved.