MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is a bacteria, which has mutated to become resistant to a wide range of antibiotics. This makes infections with this bacterium more difficult to treat than other bacterial infections. Because it is more difficult to treat, MRSA is often classed as a super-bug.
While MRSA can cause relatively mild skin infections, it can also cause more severe infections especially in vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, those living with chronic conditions and the acutely unwell and new-born babies.
MRSA infections are more prevalent in hospitals and nursing homes as there is often an entry point into the body such as surgical wound. The elderly, sick and recovering patients don’t always have such strong defences against infection through a weakened immune system and often come into contact with many people allowing bacteria and infection to spread if good hygiene practices are not followed.
Symptoms vary depending on where the MRSA infection is in the body and it can be life-threatening and life-impacting in the most extreme cases.
MRSA can be spread through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has an MRSA infection, or with someone who carries the bacteria on their body but does not have any symptoms.
MRSA can also survive for long periods of time on medical dressings, towels, sheets and even clothes, giving plenty of opportunity for the infection to spread.
MRSA skin infection
- High temperature
- Generally feeling unwell
- Swollen red painful skin
- Skin feels hot
- Sepsis (blood poisoning)
- Urinary tract infection
- High fever above 38°C
- Infection of lining of the heart (endocarditis)
- Bacterial bone infection (osteomyelitis)
- Septic arthritis
Practice good personal hygiene
- The best prevention is the routinely practice of good hygiene.
- Hands should always be thoroughly washed with soap and dried, preferably with a paper towel, after using the toilet and before and after eating meal.
- If you are visiting a nursing home or someone in hospital always wash your hands to remove dirt and use the sanitising gels before going to the bedside of a vulnerable person. Repeat this process when you leave and again if you return to the bedside. You should also avoid sitting on the beds of patients to limit transmission of MRSA onto clothes
Hygienically clean laundry
- If caring for someone with MRSA, hygienically clean all towels, bedding and clothes using the hottest wash programme (greater than 60°C, and you may wish to consider adding a bleach based laundry product or Dettol Antiseptic Liquid to the main wash of your programme.
Care for your wounds
- To prevent any infection entering your bloodstream, make sure to practice good first aid on any wounds and grazes by cleaning and covering with waterproof dressings.
Myths and Truths
- MRSA doesn’t respond to any antibiotic treatment
This is not the case. MRSA can be treated by certain drugs that have not yet become ineffective. The drug used will depend on the exact strain of MRSA. What is known is that the range of drugs to treat MRSA is much more limited.
- MRSA is life-threatening
Whilst this can be true especially if people have invasive MRSA infections and severe complications caused by it, MRSA can be unknowingly carried by healthy people without it causing an infection to them. This carrying of the infection can however act as route of passing the infection through to others, hence why it is critical to practice excellent hand and surface hygiene to limit its spread, especially around vulnerable groups.