What is MRSA and should it be a concern?

MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus)

The term MRSA is used to describe a number of strains of the bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus, that are resistant to a number of antibiotics, including methicillin.

MRSA - Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium that is a member of the Firmicutes, and is frequently found in the human respiratory tract and on the skin. There are many people in the community who may have the MRSA germ without showing any symptoms. By screening a patient before their operation, a hospital can find out who is carrying the germ and provide treatment before they are admitted to hospital.

Hospitals take MRSA and healthcare associated infections extremely seriously and are committed to reducing such infections to give patients high quality care. As part of the pre-operative process, patients will be routinely screened for MRSA. This helps to prevent the spread of the germ and lowers the risk of complications occurring while the patient is recovering in hospital.

What is MRSA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a common germ that is found on the skin and in the nostrils of about a third of healthy people. It can cause infections. MRSA are varieties of Staphylococcus aureus that have developed resistance to Methicillin (a type of penicillin) and some other antibiotics that are used to treat infections.

MRSA mostly affects hospital patients and can be a serious, even fatal, infection. MRSA-related deaths are commoner among the elderly and people with damaged or depressed immune systems, either from chronic disease, such as HIV, or those undergoing chemotherapy, which represses the activity of the immune system.

Despite being relatively uncommon during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, MRSA infection grew dramatically in the mid-1990s, when new strains that were easily transmitted from person to person became established in hospitals across the UK, causing an increasing number of cases.

MRSA Colonisation
Most people who have MRSA are colonised. This means that MRSA is present on the surface of the skin and does not cause any harm to the person. People who are colonised will have no signs or symptoms of infection and feel well. However, if you come into hospital to undergo a procedure, there may be an opportunity for MRSA to enter the body. This is why patients found to be colonised with MRSA will be given a skin wash to remove the germ from the skin and nasal ointment to remove MRSA from the nose.

Causes of MRSA

You can become colonised with MRSA if you’re in contact with someone who is carrying MRSA on their skin. This is much more likely if you’re in hospital or a nursing home.

The most common way that MRSA is spread is on the hands. MRSA can be picked up from contact with objects that have been touched or used by someone who has MRSA, such as towels, sheets, clothes or dressings.You can develop an MRSA infection if the bacteria enter your body, for example, through an open wound or through contaminated hospital equipment.

MRSA doesn’t usually cause any problems in people who are healthy and have a good immune system.

Prevention of MRSA

There are a number of measures you can take to help stop MRSA from spreading and to reduce your risk of getting infected.

  • Always wash your hands after going to the toilet, and before and after you eat.
  • If you have a wound, keep it covered until it heals.
  • If you’re visiting someone in hospital or a care home, always wash your hands before and after your visit. Many hospitals have alcohol gels for hand cleaning at the end of patients’ beds or at the entrance to the ward.
  • If you’re going into hospital, for example for an operation, your doctor may suggest you’re screened for MRSA before you go. If you’re carrying MRSA, your doctor may prescribe treatment before you go into hospital.

While you’re in hospital, you can reduce your risk of infection by making sure that you, your surroundings and staff all follow general good hygiene practices.

More information on MRSA can be found at:

MRSA Action UK
MRSA Action UK was founded by a group of people who all had life changing experiences or lost a loved one through contracting MRSA.

MRSA – information and fact sheets provided by BUPA