What is MRSA?

MRSA stands for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. It is a type of bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus or “Staph”) that is resistant to certain antibiotics such as methicillin, penicillin, and amoxicillin. MRSA has been recognized as a major medical issue for the past 20 years, as people infected with MRSA are more difficult to treat. MRSA is resistant to most of the antibiotics used to treat Staph and other bacterial infections.

How serious is MRSA infection?

Like Staph bacteria, MRSA often lives on the skin or in the nose of healthy people without causing symptoms. Most MRSA infections are minor, such as pimples and boils, which are limited to the skin and can be successfully treated. More serious infections — such as wound infections, pneumonia, or septicaemia (infections getting into bloodstream) — can result in life-threatening illness or, on rare occasions, death.

How is MRSA spread?

MRSA is primarily spread by skin-to-skin contact or through contact with items contaminated by the bacteria. People who have MRSA on their skin, or who are infected with MRSA, can spread the germs to other people. You may have MRSA and not be sick; however, you can still spread it to others and they can become ill. You can also infect yourself through an open wound on your own body.

MRSA has been shown to spread easily in healthcare settings. MRSA can be passed through contaminated bed linens, bed rails, bathroom fixtures, and medical equip¬ment. It can also spread to other people via the unwashed hands of doctors, nurses, other healthcare providers, and visitors. Outbreaks are more common in the hospitals because some patients are more vulnerable due to pre-existing illnesses.

How common is MRSA infection?

Staph is a very common type of bacteria that can be found in about 20 to 30 percent of the general population on their skin or in their noses. Some of these Staph may be MRSA, while others are not antibiotic resistant. The majority of MRSA infections occur among patients in hospitals or other healthcare facilities; however, it is becoming more common in the community. About 30% of people who carry MRSA may at some time develop an infection.

Who is most likely to get an MRSA infection?

Anyone can get an MRSA infection, even healthy people with healthy skin. People with weakened immune systems and chronic conditions are more susceptible to serious infections. Hospital patients and residents in nursing homes or long-term care facilities are at a higher risk of developing an MRSA infection.

Can MRSA infections be treated?

There are antibiotics that can kill MRSA germs. Many skin infections can be treated without antibiotics. It is important that individuals who think they might have an MRSA infection seek advice from a health professional so that the infection can be properly diagnosed and treated effectively. Early diagnosis also ensures that appropriate measures can be taken to limit the spread of MRSA to other people.

What should I do to prevent spread of MRSA if I have a MRSA skin infection?

See a healthcare provider as soon as possible. They will tell your how you can best protect yourself and others from this infection. The following steps can help prevent the spread of MRSA to others:

  • Cover the site of skin infections with a clean bandage, and wear clothing that covers the infected area.
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water, or by using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after touching the wound or changing the bandage. Discard the bandages and tape used to cover the wound into the garbage.
  • Do not share personal items such as towels, razors, or bar soap with others.
  • Wash towels, sheets, and clothing with water and laundry detergent. A small amount of bleach can be added as an extra measure. Dry items completely in a hot-air dryer.
  • Clean your bathroom and personal care items frequently.
  • Tell any healthcare providers that you have had MRSA. Remind them to clean their hands before and after contact with you.

How can I prevent MRSA skin infection?

  • Careful hand hygiene is the single most effective way to prevent MRSA infections. Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water or by using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed.
  • Do not share personal items such as towels and razors.
  • Avoid unprotected contact with other people’s wounds or bandages
  • If you are in the hospital, remind all healthcare providers to clean their hands before and after caring for you.