M.R.S.A. - Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus
What is MRSA?
This Infection is known in the media as the Super Bug and particular strains of staphylococcus aureus which have resistance (not destroyed by) antibiotic treatment particularly the methicillin (a type of penicillin) are known as MRSA. There are many different strains of staphylococcus aureus, bacteria which are responsible for all sorts of infections like sinusitis, impetigo, cystitis, diarrhoea etc. which can be treated with the penicillin range of antibiotics. If the bacteria are on the skin it can be passed around by physical contact if however it is in the nose or lungs it can be spread by droplet infection.
Who has MRSA?
A third of the population carry MRSA on the body with no ill effects, they do not know they are carrying it. They are referred to as “carriers” the bacteria have “colonised” on the skin surface, and unless you were swabbed and tested you would not know you were carrying them. Colonised means that they are sitting on the skin surface causing no harm to the person concerned. It survives in the skin folds; nose, armpits, perineum (the area around your genitals and anus) and umbilicus (belly button). If you are a fit healthy person then you will not become infected unless you have a cut in the skin surface, if this happens you may get a boil or a localised infection.
If you are infected with MRSA you may be suffering from an already weakened immune system, you may have a catheter, or have had a cannula inserted in your hand or arm or have an open sore or have had an operation. Once the skin surface is no longer intact the bacteria can be transferred and can enter your body it then becomes a problem. People with impaired circulation or diabetes, or people with skin conditions such as psoriasis are more vulnerable to this infection and the consequences of it.
Why do we have MRSA?
Over the last thirty to forty years, antibiotic treatment was widely prescribed for a range of illnesses and due to this overuse and sometimes misuse by patients the staphylococcus aureus bacterium adapted and became resistant to the penicillin range of antibiotics. The Department of Health has already produced guidance to doctors and the public to discourage the use of antibiotics, unless they are clinically needed. Hospitals also have addressed this issue by adhering to local antibiotic policies and following national guide lines.
How do you get MRSA?
MRSA is quite easily transferred as it is usually on the skin surface, therefore it travels primarily on the hands and it can be transferred to all sorts of surfaces. If you think about all the surfaces and things that you touch during the day you will have some idea of how quickly it can spread. Good personal hygiene with hand washing and general ward cleanliness is very important and a high priority in all hospitals.
I am worried about getting MRSA
It is perfectly understandable for you to be concerned about contracting MRSA if you are due to go into hospital for an operation as it is quite a prominent subject in the press. Everyone in hospitals all over the country is acutely aware of how important hygiene standards are, it is a global problem and concerted efforts are being made all the time to ensure your safety. It is, in fact better that you are aware of MRSA, as you are then able to take action to reduce your chances of being infected. If you are concerned that you may have MRSA prior to going in to hospital you can talk to your GP about being screened. This means swabs will be taken from different areas on your body and if it is found that you are an MRSA carrier you will be given a prescription for a special bactericidal soap and shampoo that you can use for five days prior to your admission. You will need to make sure that you change your clothes and bedding daily for those five days to prevent reinfection. Do remember to inform the staff on the ward if you are or have had MRSA.
When admitted to hospital:
- Wash you hands before and after eating meals
- Wash your hands after visiting the toilet
- Maintain your personal hygiene standards
- Do not share anything or borrow anything from other patients
- Do not sit on other patients beds
- Ask staff if they have washed their hands before they touch you
- Make sure there is adequate alcohol hand rub gel available
- If the area around your bed is dirty ask for it to be cleaned
- Take bactericidal wipes into hospital with you
Always wear slippers when walking around the ward
What can I do to prevent getting MRSA?
There are a number of things you can do which will help prevent the spread of this infection:-
- Wash and dry you hands before and after visiting your relative or friend
- If you have had MRSA in the past please inform the staff so they can plan your care
- Do not sit on the patients bed if you are a visitor
- Do not use the patients toilets if you are a visitor
- Do not touch intravenous drips, drains or equipment
- Do not touch the wound site
- Do not visit patient in hospital if you are feeling unwell
- Avoid sharing anything with other patients i.e. books etc.
- If the area around the bed is not clean bring this to the attention of the staff
- If you are asked to wear gloves and an apron when visiting please do so
- Ask the staff if you have any questions regarding infection control
What happens if I get MRSA?
MRSA is often still treatable although the treatment may take longer and the Antibiotics used are in much stronger doses which may need to be given intravenously (straight into your blood stream). You will need to remain in hospital for a longer period of time while undergoing treatment and your recovery time may be longer. Very rarely people who already are seriously ill they may find that their bodies are not able to fight MRSA in addition to their original illness and the infection can prove fatal.
Measures are taken once it has been recognised that you have MRSA to prevent the spread this is called infection control and there are a variety of measures that can be taken, barrier nursing and cohort nursing.
- This is where the patient is usually transferred to a side room with on suite facilities which mean the patient is isolated from the other patients on the ward. In barrier nursing conditions, doctors and other staff attending to the patients needs will wear protective clothing (usually aprons and gloves) when they have physical contact . The staff wash and dry their hands/ or use an alcohol rub before putting on the gloves and plastic aprons. They will enter the room and before they leave after treating you will remove the apron and gloves and dispose of them safely they will then wash their hands again. If your visitors come to see you they will be asked to wash their hands before and after the visit.
- This is where a group of patients who are suffering from the same infection are nursed together in a ward/bay area
When you have commenced treatment for MRSA you will have swabs taken at various intervals to check if the infection is being eradicated. When you have three MRSA-negative swabs, these tests usually take 2-3 days, it means you are no longer infected you will be returned to the general ward area.
Click here to view details of MRSA surveillance in hospitals all over the country so you can see how well your hospital performs