MRSA Information & Links
What is MRSA?
MRSA (sometimes referred to as the ‘superbug’) stands for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and is a bacterium from the Staphylococcus aureus family.

Staphylococcus aureus (SA) is a type of bacteria that lives harmlessly on skin and in the lining of the mouth and nose (mucosa) of about one third of healthy people. It can, however, cause infection once it enters the body through a cut or abrasion. SA is a very common cause of boils, impetigo and abscesses – even serious infections like septicaemia (blood poisoning) and heart-valve infection.
MRSA is resistant to some of the antibiotics that are commonly used to treat infection, including Methicillin (a type of penicillin originally created to treat SA infections).

Causes of MRSA:
MRSA does not normally affect healthy people. You may contract the infection if you are tired and run down, ill, injured or have had some kind of surgery. This includes people with deep wounds or catheters (plastic tubes placed in the body to drain fluids) or intravenous drips. People in hospital are particularly vulnerable as the bacteria can be spread from person to person quite easily. However, there have also been a small number of cases of community-acquired MRSA (ca-MRSA), which have been spread among people who have not been in contact with hospitals.

If you get MRSA while you are in hospital your wound may take more time to heal and any treatment you are on may be altered to ensure that the infection clears up. It is also likely that you will be separated from other patients who have not been colonised with the bacteria. This is to stop the germ spreading.

If you are not in hospital, it is still very important to take basic hygiene precautions. This includes covering cuts and broken skin bandages and washing hands frequently and thoroughly.

Treatment depends on two factors:

• What antibiotic resistance the particular strain of SA has, and
• Whether you are infected, or only ‘colonised’, with the bacteria.

If the strain of SA is not resistant to Methicillin or another common antibiotic drug, you will be given these drugs, usually in tablet form.
If the infection is MRSA (that is, resistant to many common antibiotics, including Methicillin), other types of antibiotics will be given. It may be necessary to carry out lab tests on a sample of the bacteria, in order to find out which antibiotics will work on the particular strain.

People who are ‘colonised’ with the bacteria have the MRSA germs present on the skin or nose, but they have not yet caused any harm. If you are colonised, you can infect yourself or other people, so it is important to remove the bacteria. A special antibiotic called mupirocin is usually applied to the skin or the inside of the nose to remove the bacteria. Skin and hair may be washed with special antiseptics.

You become infected with SA if the bacteria get into the body through a break in the skin. This may happen through burns, surgical wounds, or the entry point for a catheter. This is why people in hospital are more likely to get infected – they are more likely to have an opening for the infection to enter the body.

Most strains of MRSA can be treated with the antibiotics.

Staphylococcus aureus is quite common: around 30% of people carry the germ in their nose or on their skin (this is often referred to as being ‘colonised’ with the germ). SA and MRSA are not normally a risk to healthy people and the majority of people colonised with SA do not have any symptoms and aren’t aware they are carrying the germ.

For people who do become infected with MRSA, symptoms can include the following:

• boils and abscesses in any part of the body,
• impetigo (an infectious skin disease),
• septic wounds,
• heart-valve infections,
• food poisoning and
• toxic shock syndrome

The chance of bacteria becoming resistant to drug treatment can be reduced by using antibiotics carefully. Whenever possible, a germ’s reaction to various antibiotics should be tested to make sure the most effective antibiotic is given. The full course of antibiotics should always be taken.

MRSA is usually passed on by human contact, often from the skin of the hands. Therefore hands should always be thoroughly washed and disposable gloves worn when changing dressings etc. to prevent spreading the germ to other people.

Hospital staff who come into contact with patients should maintain very high standards of hygiene and take extra care when treating patients with MRSA. Before examining a patient, hospital staff should make sure they have washed their hands or cleaned them with a special alcohol rub or gel. Alcohol hand gel dispensers may also be placed by patients’ beds and at the entrance to clinical areas for use by staff and visitors. If you are concerned about hygiene, don’t be afraid to ask the doctor or nurse treating you if they have washed their hands.

When in hospital, you can reduce your risk of infection by taking sensible precautions such as:

• Keeping your hands and body clean. Take soap and moist hand-wipes with you, as well as your own razor.
• Always wash your hands after using the toilet.
• Always wash your hands or clean them with a hand-wipe immediately before and after eating a meal.
• Make sure your bed area is regularly cleaned and report any unclean toilet or bathroom facilities to staff.