What is MRSA?
Staphylococcus aureus (Staph aureus, often called “Staph”) is a type of bacteria that normally lives on the skin and in the nose and lower intestine and may cause a variety of different infections.
Methicillin is an antibiotic developed specifically to treat infections caused by Staph aureus. Some Staph aureus have become resistant to methicillin, making this medication (and many others), ineffective against these resistant strains. Staph aureus that have become resistant to methicillin are referred to as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA for short.
In people who are colonized* with MRSA, we typically find the germ living inside the nose, in the area of the rectum, and sometimes in the axilla (the armpit). When we rub our nose we can transfer the bacteria from our nose to our hands. Once on our hands it is easy to spread it throughout our surroundings, by touching other things and other people.
Who is likely to get MRSA?
Healthy people are usually not at risk of getting methicillin-resistantStaphylococcus aureus (MRSA). However, the following factors do make a person more susceptible:
Staph aureus is a bacteria that is commonly found on our skin. About 30-40% of all people have Staph aureus on their skin. Some people carry the drug resistant form of Staph aureus (MRSA) on their skin without any sign of infection. When this happens, someone is considered to be colonized with MRSA.
What is community-associated MRSA?
Recently there has been evidence of MRSA infections beginning in the community rather than in a hospital or long-term care home. The affected individuals in the community lack the usual risk factors for an MRSA infection. Certain groups such as sports teams, homeless people, military troops, and children who attend daycare seem to be more susceptible than others.
In these groups, the spread of infection is likely due to crowding, frequent skin-to-skin contact, poor hygiene, contaminated environments (e.g. locker rooms) and the sharing of personal items that may become contaminated. Most of the time these infections are skin related (boils, cellulitis, impetigo) but occasionally these infections can be serious.
How is MRSA spread?
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is spread mostly through hand contact. The germ is transferred from an infected person to another if they do not wash their hands properly before touching another person or items in their environment. MRSA can also be transmitted from mother to child through breast milk.
Healthcare workers who care for those with the bacteria may transfer it to others if they do not wash their hands properly. MRSA can survive on surfaces (e.g., counters, door knobs) and be transferred to another person when a person touches the contaminated surface and then touches their face or skin.
MRSA is not spread through the air.
Good hand hygiene is the single-most effective way to prevent the spread of MRSA. Hand hygiene should be carried out before coming in contact with any patient in the hospital, after providing any direct care to the patient, after any known or possible exposures to body fluids (example, after helping someone to the toilet, after changing a diaper, after changing a dressing), and as you leave the patient’s environment.
MRSA can cause a number of different infections, some of which can be so mild that they aren’t even noticed, and others can be serious, requiring prolonged hospitalization and treatment with antibiotics.
How can I tell if I am colonized with MRSA?
People who are colonized with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) but do not have an infection have no signs of illness. Without taking a test, there is no way to know if someone is carrying the bacteria on their skin. When infections do occur they can present as infections just under the skin (called cellulitis), other soft tissue infections such as boils, pimples, or infected sores. If the MRSA gets beyond our skin and soft tissue it can spread to our blood, and cause blood stream infections, to our lungs and cause pneumonia, to our joints and cause septic arthritis and to our urinary tracts and cause infections of our bladder or kidneys. If you have signs of an infection, culture tests will be taken to see what bacteria is causing your symptoms. These tests will pick up the presence of MRSA. Your doctor will determine what treatment to use based on the results of your examination.
How can I protect myself from MRSA?
Hand hygiene is your best protection against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)! Good handwashing by everyone, including healthcare staff, physicians, volunteers, patients and visitors, is the single, most effective way to prevent the spread of infectious diseases like MRSA.
How is MRSA treated?
People who are methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) colonized do not usually require any special medical treatment. Patients in a hospital and residents in a long-term care home may be treated to try to get rid of the bacteria. Therapy may involve applying antibacterial ointment to the nostrils, taking an antibiotic orally and/or having baths with special soap to remove MRSA from the skin.
If you are prescribed antibiotics, do not miss a dose or stop taking the drug before you finish all the medicine unless directed by your physician.
Information for Patients and Visitors
What happens when a hospital patient has MRSA?
When a patient is diagnosed with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), the patient is placed on contact precautions. People coming into the room wear isolation gowns and gloves and clean their hands upon leaving the room. This is to protect visitors, staff and other patients. Patients are placed in single rooms while they complete their treatment. Contact precautions are discontinued when the bacteria disappears.
Can patients with MRSA have visitors?
Yes. Restrictions on activities or visitors at home or in the community are not necessary. If you are visiting a person with methicillin-resistantStaphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in a hospital or a long-term care home you will have to follow the contact precautions required by that facility. It is very important to perform hand hygiene both before entering the room of the patient you are visiting and upon leaving that room. Hand hygiene stations are also available at the entrance to the hospital. Hand hygiene should be performed again as you exit the hospital.
Can patients with MRSA visit other healthcare providers?
If you have been found to be colonized with MRSA or are being treated for an active infection, be sure to inform any healthcare providers you visit in the community (e.g. doctor, nurse, physiotherapist) about your MRSA so they can take the appropriate precautions (e.g. handwashing, use of gloves).
If you have any questions about our hospital’s infection prevention and control program, please contact Mackenzie Health Infection Prevention and Control Department at firstname.lastname@example.org.