HealthLinkBC File #73, February 2013
Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA)
- What are Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA)?
- Why is MRSA a concern?
- How is MRSA spread?
- How common are MRSA?
- Should I get tested for MRSA?
- What are my chances of getting infected with MRSA?
- How long does MRSA last?
- How are MRSA infections treated?
- How can I prevent MRSA infections?
- What steps are taken to prevent the spread of MRSA in hospitals?
What are Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA)?
Staphylococcus aureus (SA) are bacteria found in the nose or on the skin of approximately 3 out of 10 healthy people. Most people do not know that they are carrying SA bacteria.
When these bacteria are in your nose or on the surface of your skin, they will not normally harm you. However, if SA does get into or through your skin, they can cause a variety of infections, such as skin and wound infections. Sometimes, SA can cause serious infections in your blood, lungs or other tissues.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSAs) are types of SA that have become resistant to some antibiotics that are used to treat SA infections. MRSA are not easier to catch and do not cause more severe infections than other SA.
Why is MRSA a concern?
MRSA infections are more difficult to treat because MRSA are resistant to some common antibiotics. Fewer antibiotics will treat infections caused by these bacteria.
How is MRSA spread?
Because SA can be on the surface of the skin, the most common way MRSA spreads from person to person is by direct contact.
A much less common way it can spread is by touching surfaces such as railings, faucets, or handles that may be contaminated with MRSA.
If you have MRSA, you can prevent the spread by keeping wounds covered, washing your hands regularly, and not sharing personal items such as towels, washcloths, razors, clothing, or uniforms that may have had contact with a contaminated wound or bandage.
For more information on hand washing, see HealthLinkBC File #85 Hand Washing for Parents and Children.
How common are MRSA?
MRSA are not common, and it is estimated that less than 2% of people are carriers of MRSA. Of those people, most show no signs of infection. Most people are only identified as carriers of MRSA during routine testing of nose or skin swabs taken before or during a hospital stay.
MRSA are more often found in hospitals. For this reason, special precautions are used to prevent the spread of MRSA in hospitals.
Should I get tested for MRSA?
Healthy people do not need to be tested for MRSA as the risk of becoming infected is very small; only about 4 out of 10,000 people will develop an infection from MRSA per year.
What are my chances of getting infected with MRSA?
If you are healthy your chances of becoming sick with MRSA are low, even if you have been in contact with someone with MRSA. You may be at higher risk if you have had long-term, frequent, or intensive use of antibiotics. You may also be at higher risk if you have had intensive hospital care or surgery, particularly in hospitals where previous cases of MRSA have been reported. Injection drug users and people with long-term illnesses are also at higher risk.
How long does MRSA last?
Healthy people can carry MRSA in their nose, on their skin, or in wounds that do not heal for weeks or even years. People who carry MRSA can sometimes clear the bacteria from their bodies but the MRSA can return, particularly in people who take antibiotics.
How are MRSA infections treated?
If you carry MRSA in your nose or on your skin and you are healthy, you do not need treatment and you should continue with your normal activities. Although you do not pose a health risk to your family, co-workers, or to the public, it is important for you to wash your hands regularly using soap and water. Using an alcohol hand rub may prevent the spread of MRSA after touching surfaces with your hands. You do not need to disclose to your workplace, school or daycare setting that you carry MRSA.
Mild infections of the skin may only need to be treated with warm compresses or with draining if an abscess develops. If necessary, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics.
How can I prevent MRSA infections?
There is no vaccine to protect you from MRSA. The most important thing you can do is wash your hands before eating, drinking, smoking or applying personal care products, touching your face, nose or eyes, and after using the toilet. Wash your hands well for at least 15 seconds using warm water and soap. Use a paper towel to dry your hands. If you are not near a sink alcohol hand rubs can be used effectively as long as your hands are not visibly dirty.
Some bacteria can survive on surfaces like railings, faucets and handles for days or even months. Regular cleaning of these surfaces with a household cleaner can also help reduce the spread of bacteria.
What steps are taken to prevent the spread of MRSA in hospitals?
If you are visiting a hospital, follow hospital guidelines to prevent the spread of MRSA, including washing your hands or using hand sanitizer when entering and leaving the hospital and the patient’s room.
If you may be a carrier of MRSA and are going to be admitted into the hospital, let hospital admitting staff know. Steps will be taken to protect other patients and hospital staff from MRSA infection.
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