MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) is a particular type of bacterium (germ) which has developed a resistance to a specific antibiotic used to treat it. The bacterium, Staphylococcus aureus, is very commonly found on the skin and in the noses of people in normal, good health,. Like many other bacteria, S.aureus has built up a resistance to antibiotics over time. Methicillin is an antibiotic commonly used to treat it.
Until recently, there was a single effective treatment for MRSA – an antibiotic called Vancomycin, which is usually given by injection and may have side effects. However, some strains of MRSA have now evolved resistance to Vancomycin. It is now hoped that new classes of drug will be developed which can deal with MRSA.
How dangerous is MRSA?
Under average circumstances, there is little risk from MRSA. It is when your resistance is low, for example after an operation, that risk increases. MRSA can cause wound infections, so extra care is needed when the skin is broken (again, there is extra risk after an operation). This is why there is particular concern about hospital patients, especially those in intensive care units, burns units, surgical and orthopaedic wards. Risk is generally higher for those whose resistance is lowered by additional factors such as old age, or the weakened immunity which comes with some viruses, including HIV.
What can be done about it?
Treatment is usually with the antibiotic Vancomycin, which is normally given intravenously. Other antibiotics may also be considered.
What can you do to help prevent spread of MRSA?
Usually treatment is not needed if you are merely carrying the bacterium and are in good health. If you are at risk of infection to a wound, or are in contact with people who are at risk, then you can reduce the risk of spreading MRSA by following the same precautions that you would use against spread of germs in general.
In particular, carefully wash your hands with soap and warm running water and dry them with a clean towel.
In hospitals, particular care may be given to hygiene precautions around patients with MRSA. This may extend to keeping patients with MRSA in isolation from other patients.