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What is methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)?

Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus is a bacterial infection resistant to antibiotic methicillin. Staphylococcus aureus, sometimes referred to simply as "staph," or "staph A" is a common bacterium found on the skin of healthy people. If staph gets into the body it can cause a minor infection such as boils or pimples or serious infections such as pneumonia or blood infections.

One antibiotic commonly used to treat staph infections is methicillin. While methicillin is very effective in treating most staph infections, some staph bacteria have developed a resistance to methicillin and can no longer be killed by this antibiotic. The resistant bacteria are called methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus or MRSA.


Who is susceptible to MRSA infection?

MRSA usually infects hospital or other health care facility patients. Persons with long-term illnesses or who are immuno-suppressed are at higher risk.

The infection can develop in an open wound such as a bedsore or when there is a tube such as a urinary catheter that enters the body. MRSA rarely infects healthy people.

MRSA can be contacted in the community. The bacteria is spread by direct contact with an open wound or by sharing personal items such as a razor or towel. These conditions are a concern in crowded places such as athletic events or schools/day cares, or from people living in barracks or who have recently been in a hospital.

What are the symptoms of MRSA?

Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus produces symptoms no different from any other type of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. The skin will appear red, swollen, and inflamed around wound sites. The area may be painful to touch and be full of pus or other drainage. Symptoms in serious cases may include a fever. MRSA can cause urinary tract infections, pneumonia, toxic shock syndrome, and even death.


Can MRSA be treated?

Yes. While MRSA is resistant to many antibiotics and can be difficult to treat, there are a few antibiotics that can cure MRSA infections. Patients that are only colonized with MRSA usually do not require treatment.


How long do MRSA infections last?

Healthy persons can carry the MRSA bacteria in their nose or on their skin for weeks or even years. Healthy people can sometimes effectively clear MRSA from their bodies even in the absence of any kind of treatment, however, unless completely cleared the bacteria can return, especially if the individual undergoes antibiotic therapy.


Where is MRSA found and how is it spread?

MRSA can be present in the nose, on the skin, or in the blood or urine. MRSA can spread among other patients who are usually very ill with weakened immune systems that cannot fight off the infection.

MRSA is usually spread through physical contact--not through the air. It is usually spread by direct contact (e.g., skin-to-skin).

Healthcare workers hands may also become contaminated by contact with patients, or indirect contact from surfaces in the workplace and medical devices that are contaminated with MRSA.


How is the transmission of MRSA prevented?

In the community, contact your doctor if you think you have an infection. Early treatment is very important.

  • Do not treat the infection yourself, and do not pick or pop the sore.
  • Cover the infection with dry bandages.
  • Clean your hands often, and always after changing the bandage or touching the infection.
  • Do not share personal items.
  • Wipe down non-washable sports equipment with an antibacterial solution.
  • Clean surfaces (counter tops, door knobs) with a standard disinfectant on a regular basis.
  • Wash sheets, towels, and clothes with water and laundry detergent. Use a dryer to dry the items completely.

The prevention of MRSA infections in health care is based upon standard infection control precautions, which include routine practices, and contact precautions as required for all antibiotic-resistant organisms. Steps include, but are not limited to:

Source Control

Contact precautions should be used with patients with known or suspected infections. It is not necessary to wait for testing to confirm a diagnosis. Use contact precautions (e.g., procedures to prevent droplet or aerosols). Post signs at the entrance to patient area.

Hand Hygiene

Wash hands immediately after gloves are removed, between patient contacts and between tasks and procedures.

Gloving

Wear gloves when touching blood, body fluids and contaminated items. Remove gloves between patient contacts and wash hands immediately.

Masking

Wear a mask and face shield during procedures that are likely to generate splashes or droplets of blood and body fluids.

Gowning

Wear a long-sleeved gown during procedures that are likely to generate splashes or droplets of blood and body fluids. Wear gown before beginning the procedure, and remove before leaving the patient's area.

Do not wear any personal protective equipment (gloves, masks, gowns, etc.) for more than one patient.

Patient Care Equipment

Appropriate cleaning, disinfection and sterilization of patient care equipment are important in limiting the transmission of organisms.

Education of Patient, Families and Visitors

All people involved should be educated about the importance of the precautions being used to help prevent the transmission of the disease. Hand hygiene is particularly important.

Handling of Laundry

Handle, transport, and process used linen soiled with blood or body fluids in a manner that prevents skin exposure, contamination of clothing and transfer of microorganisms to other patients.

For further information refer to Routine Practices and Additional Precautions for Preventing the Transmission of Infection in Health Care (2102) from the Public Health Agency of Canada.


Is it safe for healthy people to be in contact with a person infected with MRSA? Can children contract MRSA from being around an infected person?

Healthy people, including children are at very low risk of contracting MRSA. Casual contact such as hugging is okay; however, hands should be washed before leaving the patient's hospital room or home. Persons should use gloves, however, before handling any body fluids of infected persons, and remove the gloves and wash the hands before leaving the infected person's room or home. Before an infected person leaves the hospital ask the nurse or doctor what precautions they recommend be taken at home. In general, follow good hygiene practices.

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Document last updated on February 7, 2014

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