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Information for patients in the community with MRSA

Patient information A-Z

This information is designed for both patients and the public; it is about MRSA and answers some common questions.

What is MRSA?

MRSA stands for Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus).

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a common germ/bug (bacteria), that 3 in 10 of us carry naturally. There are other types of bacteria in the Staphylococcus family, and we all carry at least one of the types on our skin at times, or throughout our lives. Staphylococci, as a group, are the most common cause of wound and skin infections. Some people carry S. aureus in their noses and on their skin. This is normal and does not require treatment. However some patients in hospital, who have MRSA on their skin, do sometimes require treatment.

MRSA is a particular type of S. aureus that has developed resistance to methicillin, a type of penicillin, as well as many other types of antibiotics. ‘Resistance’ means that it is not killed by the antibiotic. Similar infections occur whether a type a S. aureus is resistant to antibiotics or not. Most of the time MRSA just sits on the skin without causing a problem but if it enters the body through an open wound for example it may cause an infection.

Who is vulnerable?

The following make patients vulnerable to any infections:

  • their underlying condition
  • the number of operations they’ve had
  • the presence of open wounds
  • how frequently they’ve used antibiotics. This is much less likely to cause a problem in the community where patients are not given several different antibiotics so often or for such a long time.

Is MRSA a superbug?

MRSA is sometimes referred to in the media as a superbug. However, a full explanation of MRSA is seldom given and the consequences are often exaggerated. Many people who carry MRSA on their skin lead full and normal lives.

What is the difference between colonisation and infection with MRSA?

MRSA colonisation means that the bacteria is simply “sitting on the skin” (in any site) but is causing no harm to the person.

In an MRSA infection, the bacteria are causing signs of infection, for example, fever and/or pus discharging from a wound. If you think that you have an infection, please contact your GP.

Is MRSA a problem in the community?

MRSA is not a problem to fit, healthy people, children or pregnant women. However, people staying in hospital, receiving treatment and undergoing investigations are more at risk. People who have long-term skin lesions (such as leg ulcers), long-term urinary catheters and those receiving frequent courses of antibiotics are also more at risk.

Will I be tested for MRSA?

All patients who are admitted as emergencies will be screened in the Emergency Department. If you have a planned admission, such as a surgical procedure you will be tested for MRSA at your assessment visit. If you are attending for a day case you will be assessed by telephone only.

If you are discharged home from hospital before the results of MRSA swabs are available, and you are found to be have MRSA you and your GP practice will receive a letter.

If you have further planned admissions it is useful to know if you still have the MRSA so we may test you again before you are admitted.

Will you treat my MRSA?

If you are waiting for surgery, the need for treatment will be assessed by the consultant responsible for your care and is based on each person’s individual circumstances and the type of operation required. Treatment, if required will be organised by the pre-assessment clinic.

All patients are swabbed on admission to hospital, therefore, the infection control nurses will risk assess the need for topical treatment at this time.

Can I pass MRSA on to my friends and relatives?

If you have MRSA, you are not a risk to your healthy relatives or friends. You can continue to live a normal life and maintain your usual relationship with your partner. Good hygiene and cleaning procedures in your household are enough to lower the risk of possible spread.

If you have open wounds, these should be covered with a clean dressing and changed as frequently as required. Normal hygiene precautions are sufficient as long as you wash your hands afterwards. If you injure yourself or have to deal with someone else who has an injury, you should wash your hands afterwards. No other special precautions are necessary.

Will MRSA stop me doing any normal daily activities when I return home?

No. If you feel well enough, it is important that you continue your usual activities including swimming, socialising and shopping. If you work with children or the elderly in official care settings speak to your doctor or the Community Infection Control Team for advice.

If I have MRSA, can I use the physiotherapy, rehabilitation or day care facilities?

If it is required, people who have MRSA are able to use the rehabilitation and physiotherapy facilities.

Will having MRSA stop me having further treatment, including operations?

If you require any procedure/treatment or surgery in the future, you may be re-swabbed to see if the MRSA is still present. Swabs are usually taken by a nurse in a hospital clinic.

The presence of any infection can delay any planned procedure for example: if you have an “ordinary” chest infection. Having an MRSA infection is no different. The decision of when to operate is based on a risk assessment performed by the consultant looking after you.

Skin treatments for patients colonised with MRSA can be started before the surgery and antibiotic “cover” treatment can be given when needed.

If I have MRSA, can I go into residential care or a nursing home with other residents?

Providing you are clinically fit, the presence of MRSA will not delay discharge to either your home, residential or nursing home.

Will my pets catch MRSA from me?

It is extremely rare for animals to be affected by MRSA.

Will MRSA affect my work and study?

In most circumstances, having MRSA should not affect your ability to attend work or college.

However, if you are working in a health-care setting, we recommend you seek further advice. For most other people, observing normal hygiene is sufficient and there is no need to tell employers or colleagues. If you are concerned, ask your GP or the Infection Control Nurse for advice.

If I become pregnant, is my baby at risk of MRSA and am I more likely to get infections during birth?

If you are pregnant, there are no additional risks from MRSA and this is similar for other infectious agents. If you are concerned, ask your doctor or midwife for advice.

Who needs to know I have MRSA?

Only staff involved in your health care need to know that you have MRSA, including district nurses, your GP and nursing and medical staff, who are caring for you during your hospital visits or stays.

If you have had MRSA in the past, it would be helpful to tell doctors and nurses (both in the community and in hospital) because it might assist in planning your care.

What is being done to stop the MRSA problem?

The overuse of antibiotics worldwide has led to the emergence of many antibiotic-resistant bacteria, one of which is MRSA. The Department of Health has produced guidance to GPs and the public to discourage the use of antibiotics, unless they are clinically needed. Hospitals are also addressing this issue by adhering to local antibiotic policies and following national guidance.

We all are monitoring cleaning standards in hospitals, surgeries and other care facilities closely to ensure they are up to standard. We are also encouraging everyone to work together to decrease the risks of catching all types of infection, not just MRSA. The simplest way to do this is to wash your hands frequently and follow good hygiene precautions.

Further information:

For further information about MRSA you can contact any of the following:

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Smoking is not allowed anywhere on the hospital campus. For advice and support in quitting, contact your GP or the free NHS stop smoking helpline on 0800 169 0 169.

Other formats

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Contact us

Cambridge University Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust
Hills Road, Cambridge

Telephone +44 (0)1223 245151