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MRSA stands for "methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus."

Click here for more facts about MRSA from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health

What is MRSA?

It is a strain of the germ, Staphylococcus aureus (S.aureus), that has developed resistance to most of the antibiotics commonly used to treat staphylococcal infections.

What does "resistant" mean?

It means that the germ, in this case S.aureus, has developed the means to fight off the effects of antibiotics that are usually used to kill them.

What is used to treat MRSA?

Very few antibiotics are effective against the MRSA germ. The most commonly used one is vancomycin. The more it is used, the more chance there is that the MRSA germ will build up resistance to it, just like the MRSA germ has built up resistance to methicillin, oxacillin and nafcillin, the antibiotics that are most effective against non-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

What is the difference between infection and colonization?

Infection means that there is visible activity of the body reacting to a germ: Fever, redness/swelling and/or pus at the site of the infection.

Colonization means that the germ has taken up residence in or on the body, it has become part of the person's normal germ make-up and is not currently causing infection. Persons who are colonized with MRSA have the potential to transmit the germ to other people, even though they themselves are not ill from it.

How is MRSA transmitted?

MRSA is passed from person to person by contact with someone who has MRSA. A person who is infected or colonized with MRSA may have it in their nose as well as on their hands. And whenever they touch others, they can pass the germ along.

What are the dangers of MRSA?

If MRSA infects someone who is already ill, it can compound the illness, especially if the person is hospitalized. It will take vancomycin — as well as more time in the hospital — to recover. Sometimes, if the person is very ill, it may prolong the hospital stay indefinitely, or may even lead to death.

How is transmission of MRSA prevented?

In the hospital setting, a person infected or colonized with MRSA is placed on "Contact Isolation." This practice alerts everyone entering the room to use specific barrier protection (such as masks, gloves, or gowns) as needed to help prevent spreading the germ from patient to patient, and to themselves as well.

Special attention is paid to hand washing, as this is the most important practice to prevent the spread of this germ.

How do I practice good hand washing?

Good hand washing technique is done by following these steps:

  • Use warm running water.
  • Apply soap.
  • Lather and rub hands together, paying attention to finger tips, cuticles and under nails.
  • Spend at least 10 seconds lathering and washing hands.
  • Rinse thoroughly.
  • Pat dry.
  • Use a paper towel to turn off faucet (especially away from home, and since hands are dirty when turning on the faucet).
  • Apply lotion several times throughout the day to help prevent dry, cracked skin (which can be an opening for infection).

Avoiding development of resistant organisms:

  • Do not demand antibiotics from your doctor. They will not help some infections.
  • When taking antibiotics, do not discontinue the medicine as soon as you feel better — take them as prescribed and contact your doctor if you feel worse or think the medicine is causing side effects.
  • Throw out any unused antibiotics.

In the community, the most important practice to prevent the spread of any organism, including MRSA, is good hand washing.

Source: Copyright © 1998 by The Association for Professionals in Infection Control & Epidemiology, Orange County Chapter.

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