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HealthInfo Canterbury

MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)

What is MRSA?

MRSA is short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

MRSA is a type of the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (commonly called Staph, or Staph aureus), which has become resistant to many commonly used antibiotics. Usually Staph is harmless and does not cause any problems, but it can sometimes cause an infection. While an infection caused by Staph can normally be treated easily with antibiotics, an infection caused by MRSA is more difficult to treat.

Is MRSA harmful?

Many people carry MRSA on their skin, usually without knowing it, and without any health effects. This is called colonisation. If you carry MRSA or come into contact with it, you can sometimes get an MRSA infection, usually in a wound (for example, a sore, cut, bite, or scratched area).

People in hospital are much more likely to get an MRSA infection, because of illness, surgery, medications, and procedures that weaken the body's defence systems. While MRSA in itself is not harmful, an MRSA infection can spread easily in a hospital and be difficult to treat.

How do I know if I have MRSA?

It's unlikely that you will know if you carry MRSA, unless you have symptoms of an infection, in which case, you should see your general practice team.

However, if you are ever admitted to hospital for a procedure or treatment, you may be screened to see if you carry MRSA. Screening involves hospital staff asking you questions to find out how likely it is you might carry MRSA, and they may take swabs to be analysed in a laboratory. If it turns out that you do carry MRSA, you will be placed in isolation, and all staff treating you may need to wear gloves and gowns/aprons to prevent the spread of the bacteria. You may be given antibacterial wash and ointment to use while in hospital, but you may not need to have antibiotic treatment. Carrying MRSA will not affect your treatment or prevent you from going home from hospital, but any visitors you have will need to wash their hands before leaving your room.

If you have ever had a MRSA infection or have been colonised with MRSA, it's important that you let your doctor, nurse, or other health professional know.

How is MRSA spread?

MRSA can be spread by touching an infected person, or touching something that an infected person has touched (surfaces, equipment, and so on). The best way to prevent the spread of MRSA is to practise good hand hygiene and hand washing. This is especially important if you know you carry MRSA, or if you are in contact with people in a hospital or resthome.

What should I do if I have MRSA?

If you have an MRSA infection or you know you carry MRSA:

Written by Infection Prevention and Control Service, Canterbury DHB. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. October 2012.


See also:

Hand hygiene

Skin infections

Page reference: 53276

Review key: HIMRS-53276