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What is MRSA?

MRSA stands for Meticillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. The MRSA germ belongs to the Staphylococcus Aureus (SA) bacteria family.

SA is a common germ. It lives harmlessly on the skin and in the nose of around a third of healthy people. When it does cause infection, ‘ordinary’ SA is sensitive to most commonly used antibiotics. MRSA is a particular type of SA that has developed resistance to most antibiotics. Only a very few antibiotics will kill MRSA.

What causes MRSA?
SA and MRSA cause problems only when they get into breaks in the skin (wounds, cuts, sores), into the blood stream (bacteraemia) or into normally sterile body cavities (such as the bladder). Infections are more likely, and can be particularly serious, in patients whose resistance to infection is lowered by long-term or serious frailty or ill-health, injury, surgery, or drugs. MRSA infections occur more often in patients with intravenous drips or catheters and in intensive care units. In rare cases, MRSA can be fatal. MRSA does not generally harm healthy people, including pregnant women, children and babies.

How can MRSA pass from one person to another?
People may carry the MRSA germ without knowing it and patients may have it before they are admitted to hospital. MRSA can be caught and passed on almost anywhere, not just in hospital. The MRSA bacteria is spread on hands and skin from person-to-person. Staff, patients, relatives, and other visitors can help prevent the spread of MRSA by thorough, regular hand washing with soap and water and by the use of the alcohol gel found on our hospital wards and on entrances to wards.

Can visitors catch MRSA?
If visitors carry out hand washing before entering and leaving wards, they will largely protect themselves from becoming colonised with MRSA. Even if they acquire MRSA it will usually cause them no harm, they will probably be unaware of it, and it will be temporary and won’t need to be investigated or treated. Visitors who may have reduced resistance to infection because of their own chronic ill-health or frailty should discuss these risks with the clinical team looking after their relative.

Can MRSA be treated?
MRSA can usually be treated by one of a small number of antibiotics which kill it. Other medications, such as antiseptic wash and nasal ointments, are used to remove MRSA from the skin and nose of patients who are susceptible to serious MRSA infection. Patients who have MRSA may be moved to a single room or a separate bay to assist their treatment and to help prevent cross-infection of other patients.

How do you know if you’ve got MRSA?
MRSA can cause a wide variety of symptoms and problems. Patients may be unaware that they harbour MRSA because it has caused them no problems. To identify such ‘colonised’ people many groups of patients are screened (by taking skin and nose swabs) before they come into our hospitals or during their stay. Where MRSA is found, patients may be treated in separate areas and offered antiseptic skin and hair washes and ointments to eradicate the MRSA and prevent potential problems.

Who should wash hands?
All of us – including patients, visitors and staff on a regular basis. It is everybody’s responsibility.

When should you wash hands?
Visitors should wash their hands (with soap and water):
• After visiting the toilet
• Before eating/handling food
• If their hands are dirty
• Before visiting a patient and again immediately after leaving the patient.

Staff with direct patient contact should wash their hands or use the alcohol gel:
• Before and after any procedure they perform (such as dressing wounds or adjusting a drip or catheter)
• Between each patient contact.

If a member of staff needs to examine you or perform a procedure, do not be afraid to ask them if they have cleaned their hands. We would encourage you to challenge staff so that they are constantly reminded of the importance of clean hands.

Remember – it’s okay to ask.

How should you wash hands?
• Remove jewellery
• Wet hands
• Apply soap and rub together for at least 15 seconds, making sure that all areas of both hands come into contact with the soap
• Rinse all of the soap off your hands and then dry your hands.

• Apply alcohol gel and rub together for at least 15 seconds making sure all areas of the hands are covered with the gel
• You do not need to rinse or dry after using the gel.