MRSA stands for ‘meticillin resistant staphylococcus aureus’ and is more commonly known as a superbug. MRSA featured prominently in the media some years ago with various outbreaks being reported in hospitals in the UK.

This has generated increased awareness of this bacterial infection with the result that emphasis has been placed on cleaning and hygiene standards in hospitals and nursing homes.

You are more at risk of catching MRSA in hospital than in many other environments.

Antibiotics resistant bacteria

MRSA is highly resistant to antibiotics which make it very difficult to treat. And the issue of bugs which have become resistant to antibiotics has become a huge talking point especially considering our reliance on antibiotics.

How does this happen? There are several theories which include:

  • A strain of bacteria mutates over time, become resistant to antibiotics.
  • The ‘blanket’ approach with antibiotics where they kill both harmful and harmless bacteria enables resistant strains to thrive and occupy their place.
  • An over-reliance on antibiotics has resulted in these drugs being prescribed for conditions where they are unnecessary.
  • People who don’t follow through a course of antibiotics and stop the treatment before the recommended date.

Staphylococcus aureus is a common strain of bacteria that is found on the skin, inside the nose and throat. It is responsible for conditions such as impetigo. This is relatively mild but if it enters the body through a cut in the skin or some other wound then it can cause serious infections such as septicaemia (blood poisoning).

Causes of MRSA

You are more likely to develop this infection whilst in hospital. The reason for this is that your general health is not as good which leaves you open to infections: your immune system is below par which also increases your vulnerability: you are in close proximity to people which enables germs and bacteria to spread: the bacteria can easily enter your body via an intravenous drip, catheter or surgical incision.

Babies, the elderly and anyone with a chronic health condition is also at risk.

MRSA can survive for a long time on any surface and is transmitted via direct contact.

Symptoms of MRSA

These depend upon which part of the body is affected. If the skin is affected then expect an outbreak of boils, cysts or an abscess. This is accompanied by a fever and a feeling of being under the weather.

It can cause skin conditions such as cellulitis. This affects the deep layers of the skin resulting in a painful, red, swollen rash.

It is a more serious if MRSA has entered your body via your nose or throat. Once there it causes a range of infections which include:

  • Septicaemia
  • Septic arthritis
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Endocarditis (inflammation of the lining of the heart)
  • Osteomyeltis (infection in the bone)

These are accompanied by a high temperature, chills, aches and pains, dizziness and pain and inflammation in the affected part of the body.

Diagnosing MRSA

A range of tests are carried out to confirm a diagnosis of MRSA. Samples of blood, urine, sputum and tissue are taken and then placed in Petri dishes containing nutrients. The aim is to encourage the growth of existing staphylococcus aureus bacteria.

If this occurs then different types of antibiotics are tested on them to see if the bacteria have become resistant to these antibiotics.

Treatment for MRSA

If a positive diagnosis is made then a treatment plan will be devised. This is done on an individual basis and takes into account the area of the infection, the type of infection and which antibiotics the bacteria have developed a resistance to.

If for example you have developed boils, cysts and other skin conditions then these will be cut and drained under anaesthetic. This removes the site of the infection and enables healing to take place.

Cellulitis is treated with a course of antibiotics but the type you are given depends on the results of the diagnosis and testing.

But if you have developed MRSA whilst in hospital then you will be placed in isolation. This will prevent the infection from spreading to other patients. You will be given a course of antibiotic injections but again, this depends upon the type of infection and the results of the initial testing. A combination of antibiotics may be administered.

Every patient is screened for MRSA before they are admitted to hospital. If the MRSA bacteria are present but have not caused any symptoms as of yet then this makes it relatively easy to treat. An antibacterial bodywash is applied to your skin to remove all traces of the bacteria. A cream is used to remove signs of it from inside your nose.

This is repeated over a period of 5 days at home before you go into hospital.

Preventing MRSA

These apply to visitors and hospital staff as well as patients.

MRSA can be prevented by adhering to basic hygiene rules which include:

  • Cleaning your hands with the special hand gel which is available from an on the wall dispenser. This lubricates and sterilises the hands. This applies to both staff and visitors.
  • Washing your hands every time you visit the toilet (staff, visitors and patients).
  • Washing your hands after changing a dressing or any other contact with bodily fluids. Gloves should be worn (nursing staff).
  • Ensuring that the space around the beds is clean and tidy: this also applies to the toilets and bathrooms (nursing staff).
  • Washing the hands after handling food, making beds or any personal/intimate contact with a patient (nursing staff).
  • Visitors must not sit on patients beds
  • Cleaning your hands with disposable wipes or a hand gel before and after meals (patients).
  • Reporting unclean areas, e.g. toilets to hospital staff (patients).

These steps are easy to do and will reduce the risk of MRSA spreading to others.