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MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staph aureus) Facts

What is Staphylococcus aureus?
Staphylococcus aureus, often referred to simply as "staph," is a kind of bacteria commonly found on the skin and in the nose of healthy people.

Sometimes, staph can get into the body and cause an infection. These infections can be minor (such skin infections), or more serious, even life-threatening (such as bloodstream infections or pneumonia). Staph has been causing infections for many years but recent changes in this organism have caused growing concern.

What is MRSA?
MRSA is Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Many bacteria, including Staph, have developed strains that are now resistant to the antibiotics that healthcare providers use to treat infections. MRSA is a type of Staph that is resistant to many antibiotics. This means clinicians have fewer choices of medications that can affectively treat an infection caused by MRSA.

MRSA was first identified in the 1960s and was mainly seen among patients in hospitals and nursing homes. In the late 1990s however, a new type of MRSA was identified. This "community acquired" MRSA is different from the hospital strain. This type of MRSA is being seen more often in children and adults who have never been sick before.

Having MRSA on your skin or in you nose does not always lead to infection. When you have the MRSA germ and do not have an infection, you are considered "colonized." In other words, you carry the organism, are not sick yourself, but could potentially pass it on to others. Some studies estimate that as many as 1 in 5 people are MRSA carriers. Some groups of people may be at higher risk of developing a MRSA infection.

Those with the following medical conditions are at risk:

  • Those with weakened immune systems (for example: people with malignancies or undergoing chemotherapy, people who are HIV positive, people taking medicine to prevent transplant rejection)
  • Those who have chronic diseases, like diabetes, emphysema, or who are on dialysis
  • People who have been hospitalized often or for long periods of time
  • Those who have had many medical procedures
  • Those who have taken antibiotics frequently or for a long time

Other people in certain settings are also at increased risk:

  • Athletes and people who participate in sports, especially those in which abrasions frequently occur (for example football, soccer and wrestling)
  • People who live in group environments like nursing homes, prisons, or dormitories
  • People who use IV drugs

But remember. . .people with no obvious risk factors can still get infections caused by community-acquired MRSA.

How is MRSA identified?
Laboratory tests are used to identify MRSA. Tests can be done using a blood or urine sample, or a swab from a wound or other body site.

Even if you don't have an active MRSA infection you may be tested to see if you carry MRSA. This is called 'screening for MRSA' and might be done on admission to the hospital or prior to having a medical procedure, like surgery. The screening usually involves swabbing your nose. The lab will check the swab for MRSA.

How is MRSA treated?
If you suspect you might have MRSA, consult a healthcare professional. It is important to follow any instructions your healthcare provider gives you. Make sure you complete any medication that is prescribed. Also, be sure to cover, and care for any wounds following the instructions given by your clinician.

If you have an active MRSA infection, your doctor may choose one or more of the following treatments:

  • Prescribe antibiotics
  • Drain the wound
  • Reduce the amount of MRSA in your nose or on your skin by using special soaps or an ointment in your nose

Will I always have MRSA?
Many people can be treated effectively and infections will heal. However, sometimes MRSA goes away after treatment but then comes back again. You may also remain colonized in your nose even after completing antibiotic treatment. Your healthcare provider can help you identify the reasons this may be happening.

Contact your doctor if you are being treated for a MRSA infection and:

  • You have any new symptoms, such as a fever
  • The infection gets worse
  • The infection is not healing
  • Or, if you have any questions.

What are we doing to prevent the spread of MRSA at The Chester County Hospital?
To help prevent the spread of this organism, patients with MRSA are placed in a private room, or with another patient who also has MRSA. A sign is posted outside of the room, to alert staff and visitors of the need for special precautions. This is called "Contact Isolation."

The Hospital provides special supplies, including yellow cover gowns and gloves near the room for the use of all staff and visitors.

  • Gloves should be worn when entering the room. Remove gloves before leaving the room and clean hands immediately with soap and water, or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • A yellow isolation gown should also be worn. Remove the gown before leaving the patient's room. This will help prevent you from carrying MRSA outside the patient's room.

Hospital staff must also wear the same attire to prevent the spread of MRSA. Please remind staff to wear a gown and gloves, and feel free to ask healthcare providers whether they have washed their hands before they take care of you.

What can you do at home to reduce the chance of spreading MRSA?
You can prevent spreading MRSA infections to others by following these steps:

  • Clean your hands. The person with MRSA, family members living in the household, and all others in close contact should clean their hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Both soap and water and the alcohol gels are very effective in eliminating MRSA on your hands. You can safely hug people, shake hands, and be around others … just be sure hands are cleaned frequently and that wounds are kept covered to reduce the possibility of transferring the organism to others.
  • Cover your wound. Keep wounds, especially those that are draining or have pus, covered with clean, dry bandages. Follow your healthcare provider's instructions on proper care of the wound. Pus from infected wounds may contain MRSA, so keep the area covered to prevent the spread of germs to your environment and to others. Soiled tape and bandages should be placed in a plastic bag and then can be thrown away with the regular household trash. Be sure to clean your hands after changing bandages.
  • Do not share personal items. Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, washcloths, razors or clothing. These items may have become contaminated with MRSA and could pass the germ on to others.
  • Do your laundry. Wash sheets, towels, and clothes that become soiled with warm/hot water and laundry detergent. Use bleach if possible. Drying clothes in a hot dryer, rather than air-drying, also helps kill germs. Clean your hands after touching soiled bedding or clothing.
  • Clean your house. Use a household disinfectant, or bleach solution, to clean surfaces daily. Pay special attention to items that are touched often, like door knobs, phones, light switches, etc. Be sure to wipe the surface with the disinfectant and let it dry.

*Remember to keep bleach solutions and other cleaning liquids out of the reach of children. Don't put them in bottles that could be mistaken for something to drink.

Things to remember if you have MRSA:

  • Clean your hands often
  • Take care of yourself - eat right, exercise, quit smoking and avoid stress
  • Take good care of your skin
  • Keep infections covered to avoiding spreading MRSA to others
  • Tell all other healthcare providers that you have had MRSA
  • Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns

Remember that frequent hand washing is the best way to prevent spreading any infection.

This information was adapted from several sources including:
"Living with MRSA" produced by the Washington State Dept. of Health
"Learning about MRSA" created by the Minnesota Dept. of Health

Infection Control: 610.431.5485

Last Updated: 7/20/2009