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Staphylococcus aureus is the leading cause of bacterial infections in developed countries and produces a wide spectrum of diseases, ranging from minor skin infections to fatal necrotizing pneumonia. Although S. aureus infections were historically treatable with common antibiotics, emergence of drug-resistant organisms is now a major concern. Methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) was endemic in hospitals by the late 1960s, but it appeared rapidly and unexpectedly in communities in the 1990s and is now prevalent worldwide. This Review focuses on progress made toward understanding the success of community-associated MRSA as a human pathogen, with an emphasis on genome-wide approaches and virulence determinants.