What is MRSA?

MRSA stands for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus.

Staphylococcus Aureus (known as SA) is a common type of bacteria that lives on the skin or in the nose of about one in three people, without causing any harm. Most of these people have no idea they’re carrying the infection and don’t experience any symptoms. If the bacteria finds a way inside the body through a cut or graze in the skin, the individual may experience minor problems, such as skin infections, abscesses, impetigo, or boils. SA can cause more problems if it finds a way into the bloodstream, resulting in stronger infections and more dangerous complications.

In the past, SA infections were treated with antibiotics, such as methicillin, however over the years, with people not finishing their course of tablets and the bacteria being able to successfully mutate, SA has become immune to a wide range of antibiotics and is now very difficult to treat. These bacteria are classified as methicillin-resistant SA (MRSA) – nick-named “superbugs” because of their resistance to antibiotics.

Treatment of MRSA still involves antibiotics, but over a much longer period of time with much stronger doses, and this can lead to serious complications for the body. A small number of people die each year from MRSA.

This article on MRSA is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites. 

How do you get it?

MRSA is transmitted from person to person, usually via the hands, but can also be passed on through contact with objects in the environment that have the bacteria on them, such as towels, sheets, clothes, door handles, taps, etc.

However, it’s important to remember that the vast majority of fit, healthy people will not be affected by the bug as they do not have entry points for the bacteria to penetrate beyond the skin. People who are already in hospital are more susceptible to getting MRSA as they’re more likely to be using catheter tubes, surgical wounds, or intravenous drips etc. which act as easy entry points for the bacteria.

Who gets it?

Although anyone can be infected with MRSA, frail, weak, ill, and elderly individuals are at greater risk. People in hospital are also much more likely to get MRSA than fit, healthy people outside. This is because of a number of factors:

  • You are weak due to medical treatment or surgery
  • You have a weak immune system (elderly people, newborn babies, or people with long-term health conditions)
  • You have an open wound
  • You need to take a lot of antibiotics
  • You have a burn or a cut on the skin, or a severe skin condition such as psoriasis or leg ulcers
  • You have a catheter or intravenous drip inserted

How to avoid getting MRSA

If you’re going to visit someone in hospital, good hygiene (thorough washing and drying of the hands) is the single most important method of reducing your risk of getting MRSA.

Hospital staff who come into contact with patients should be particularly vigilant in washing and drying their hands between visiting different patients. The use of disposable gloves and fast-acting alcohol or antiseptic rubs helps maintain good hygiene standards. If you are worried about hygiene, do not hesitate to ask the nurse or doctor treating you if they’ve recently washed their hands. They will not be offended and it could save you from getting infected.

If you are going to stay in hospital below are some measures you can take to decrease your risk of getting MRSA:

  • Take in your own supplies of soap, hand-wipes, razors, and flannels
  • Always wash and dry your hands after using the toilet, sink, and before and after eating a meal
  • Wear slippers when walking around
  • Ask staff if they have washed their hands
  • Make sure your room or bed area is regularly cleaned, and report any toilet or bathroom facilities that appear unclean
  • Avoid contact with other patients. Don’t share newspapers or books
  • If you are prescribed antibiotics, always finish the course

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