Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a form of the common staph bacteria that has become resistant to penicillin and related antibiotics and is responsible for skin and soft tissue infections in humans.
It is a variation of the more common bacterium staph aureus (staph infection). About 25 to 30 percent of all people have staph bacteria in their nose, but it normally does not cause an infection. In contrast, only about 1 percent of the population carry MRSA.
Although reports stress that MRSA particularly affects patients in hospitals and healthcare facilities, the infection is not new and has been present in the community for more than four decades; children are just as likely to come in contact with the bacteria in other settings, such as playgrounds and public restrooms, as they are at school. In recent years, some communities have had to take extreme measures, including closing schools and other facilities for heavy cleaning where it has been found.
Despite the increasing prevalence of community-acquired MRSA infections, many hospitals like Sarasota Memorial have refined their infection screening and prevention practices so that the rate of hospital-acquired infections has remained low and flat. Indeed, for every one hospital-acquired infection, we treat 12 patients admitted to the hospital with infections contracted in the community.
Sarasota Memorial and other hospitals across the country have taken steps to educate the community about the risks of bacteria like MRSA and the role everyone plays in reducing its prevalence in the community. Several years ago, Sarasota Memorial installed hand sanitizing foam dispensers across the hospital and launched a public awareness campaign to encourage hand washing.
Handwashing is the single most effective measure an individual can take to prevent infection.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a staph infection? What is MRSA?
Staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infections in the United States. Most of these skin infections are minor (such as pimples and boils) and can be treated without antibiotics (also known as antimicrobials or antibacterials).
However, staph bacteria also can cause serious infections (such as surgical wound infections, bloodstream infections, and pneumonia). MRSA is just one staph bacterium that has become resistant to antibiotic treatment.
Who is at risk?
People who have weakened immune systems and are being treated in health care facilities, such as nursing homes, hospitals and dialysis centers, are at increased risk of contracting MRSA.
MRSA can also infect people in the community at large, generally as skin infections that may look like pimples or boils and can be swollen, painful and have draining pus. These skin infections often occur in otherwise healthy people.
Nationally, overall rates of infection are consistently highest among older persons (65 and older), African Americans and males.
What can I do to reduce my risk of infection?
MRSA is transmitted most frequently by direct skin-to-skin contact or direct contact with contaminated items, such as clothing or sporting equipment. Here's how you can help protect yourself from infections:
• Practice good hygiene – for example, keep your hands clean by washing vigorously with soap and water (at least 15 seconds in warm water) or use an alcohol-based hand rub and shower after working out)
• Cover any open skin area such as abrasions or cuts with a clean, dry bandage
• Avoid sharing personal items such as towels or razors
• Use a cloth or towel as a barrier between your skin and shared equipment
• Wipe surfaces of equipment before and after use with a disinfectant
• Get a flu shot (when a person’s immune system is weakened by flu, a staph infection can set in).
• Use antibiotics only for bacterial infections, not viruses such as cold or flu. The longer-term danger is that MRSA will mutate into an even more resistant form.
For more information on infection prevention techniques, visit the Centers for Disease Control website at www.cdc.gov or ask your physician.