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What is MRSA?

Staphylococcus aureus, often referred to simply as "staph," is a bacteria commonly found on the skin of healthy people. Occasionally, staph can get into the body and cause an infection. This infection can be minor (such as pimples, boils, and other skin conditions) or serious (such as blood infections or pneumonia). Methicillin is an antibiotic commonly used to treat staph infections. Although methicillin is very effective in treating most staph infections, some staph bacteria have developed resistance to methicillin and can no longer be killed by this antibiotic. These resistant bacteria are called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

What is the difference between colonization and infection?

Colonization means that MRSA is present on or in the body without causing illness. Infection means that MRSA is making the person sick.

Who gets MRSA?

MRSA infection usually develops in hospital patients who are elderly or very sick, or who have an open wound (such as a bedsore) or a tube (such as a urinary catheter) going into their body. Healthy people rarely get MRSA.

Where is MRSA found?

MRSA can be found on the skin, in the nose, and in blood and urine.

Is MRSA treatable?

Yes. Although MRSA is resistant to many antibiotics and often difficult to treat, a few antibiotics can still successfully cure MRSA infections. Patients who are only colonized with MRSA usually do not need treatment.

Can MRSA spread?

Yes. MRSA can spread among other patients, who are often very sick with weak immune systems that may not be able to fight off infections. MRSA is almost always spread by physical contact, and not through the air. Hospitals usually take special steps to prevent the spread of MRSA from patient to patient. One of these steps may be to separate, or isolate, a patient with MRSA from other patients.

What happens when a patient with MRSA is isolated?

Procedures may vary from one hospital to another, but the following often occurs:
  • The patient is placed in a private room, or in a room with one or more patients who also have MRSA.
  • The patient's movement from the room is limited to essential purposes only, such as for medical procedures or emergencies.
  • Health care workers usually put on gloves (and sometimes hospital gowns) before entering the patient's room, remove their gloves (and gowns) before leaving the room, and then immediately wash their hands.
  • Visitors also may be asked to put on gloves (and sometimes gowns), especially if they are helping to take care of the patient and likely to come in contact with the patient’s skin, blood, urine, wound, or other body substances. Visitors should always wash their hands before leaving the patient's room to make sure they don’t take MRSA out of the room with them.

    How long does a patient with MRSA have to be isolated?

    The hospital staff will determine when it is safe for a person with MRSA to come out of isolation. Because MRSA is difficult to treat, this may be a few days to a few weeks or longer.

    When a person with MRSA is being cared for at home, should the same precautions be followed?

    Before the patient leaves the hospital, be sure to ask the nurse or doctor about what precautions should be taken at home. Also, you may wish to check with your local or state health department to see if they have additional advice.

    In general, the following precautions are recommended for the care of a person with MRSA at home:
  • Wash your hands after caring for the person with MRSA.
  • Periodically clean the person’s room and personal items with a commercial disinfectant or a fresh solution of one part bleach and 100 parts water (for example, one tablespoon of bleach in one quart of water).
  • Wear gloves if you handle body substances (blood, urine, wound drainage) and wash your hands a

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