MRSA: A Guide For Hospital Patients

This page will provide you with information about MRSA. For further details, you should speak to your consultant.

What is MRSA?

Bacteria are microscopic organisms that exist on and inside our bodies. Some bacteria are beneficial to our health and wellbeing, whereas other bacteria can be harmful. MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a variety of bacterium which can lead to hospital infections. Staphylococcus aureus is not uncommon; originating from the nasal passage, groin or armpit, it is estimated that this form of bacterium is carried by a third of all healthy people. This bacterium can be harmful. Sometimes MRSA infections can be troublesome to treat, due to a resistance to antibiotics including methicillin. MRSA may exist on your body and cause no pain or discomfort (colonisation). Yet, it is possible for MRSA to move into the body (infection), causing symptoms and possibly spreading to other people. Most MRSA infections are skin infections and are only minor. However, MRSA does have the potential to cause serious problems such as artificial-implant and heart-valve infections, and sometimes blood poisoning.

Am I at risk of getting an MRSA infection?

If you have a good immunity system, it is highly unlikely that you will get an infection. However, the risk is higher if you stay in hospital and/or are undergoing surgery or an invasive procedure. MRSA is often spread to through physical contact with someone (most commonly a member of the healthcare team), or by touching something that is contaminated. In order to prevent from spreading, it is important that you wash your hands on a regular basis using soap and water, or using an alcohol solution. Make sure you do not touch areas of broken skin or any dressings. Before the healthcare team come into contact with you, ask them if they have washed their hands.

How is an MRSA infection tested?

The majority of patients admitted to hospital will be required to have a screening to see if they are colonised with MRSA. This screening may happen before your hospital admission, or after 1-2 days of you being admitted. You may be required to have more than one screening during your time in hospital. For the screening, the healthcare team will often use cotton wall to take a swab from the nasal passage surface (see figure 1), though the swab can also be taken from the groin area or armpit. The laboratory will then analyse the swab to see if you have an MRSA infection.

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If the laboratory results confirm that you may have MRSA, another swab will be taken from the area that is thought to be infected. If that test is positive and reveals that you do have an infection, the healthcare team will use the results to decide the most suitable antibiotic treatment.

What are the treatment options?

If the test confirms that you are colonised with MRSA, the healthcare team may put you into isolation to prevent the bacteria from spreading to other people. The healthcare team may ask you to wash with medicated body wash and shampoo, or to use nasal ointment up to three times every day. If you are found to be colonised with MRSA before you come to hospital, these treatments can be used at home. If the test confirms that you are infected with MRSA, meaning that it has penetrated into your body, then you will almost always be isolated from other people and given antibiotics. Sometimes, patients who are infected with MRSA are treated in the same area of the hospital. The exact type of antibiotics you will be given will relate to the area that is infected and will depend on which antibiotics the MRSA is sensitive to. Surgery is a possible outcome is infected tissue or any artificial implants need to be removed.

Will I be putting my visitors at risk?

If you are infected or colonised with MRSA, you should not be putting your visitors at risk so long as they are healthy and have a good immune system. Nevertheless, you should advise them to wash their hands before and after visiting you.

How do I manage MRSA when I return home?

Despite undergoing treatment, you may still be colonised with MRSA when you leave hospital. With this in mind, you should ensure that you keep your hands clean whilst applying antiseptic cream and dressings on small cuts. Bear in mind that the risk of the infection spreading to others is low. You should speak to your consultant if you have a notably high temperature or start to feel sick, or if the wound becomes sore, red, or if you notice pus.


References: EIDO Healthcare Limited – The operation and treatment information on this website is produced using information from EIDO Healthcare Ltd and is licensed by Aspen Healthcare.

The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.


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