MRSA is the most common hospital acquired infection costing the NHS around one billion pounds per year. MRSA is part of the Staphylococcus family of bacteria. As with any form of bacteria, they are constantly mutating creating new strains, each with subtle genetic mutations that make it different.
Staphylococci are carried on the surface of our bodies, and many people carry MRSA in their throat, nose and on their skin. Staphylococci bacteria can cause a mild infection such as spots but, Staphylococci can in more severe cases cause serious infections such as: Pneumonia, Sepsis, cellulitis & Endocarditis.
MRSA is frequently used as shorthand for strains of Staphylococcus that are resistant to one or more powerful antibiotics that are used to treat serious Staphylococcal infections. MRSA is no more aggressive than other infections, but crucially it is more resistant to treatment.
The problem of MRSA is not unique to hospitals. There are at least 17 variants of MRSA, with different abilities to spread between hosts and differing degrees of immunity to antibiotics. Community acquired MRSA has developed quite separately involving separate strains of Staphylococcus infecting both healthy as well as at risk individuals. Antibiotic treatments have been found to be effective against many strains.
MRSA has become synonymous with hospitals due to the quantity of vulnerable individuals in close proximity. Bacteria can be easily spread between patients and with existing strains containing mutations that are antibiotic resistant combining with new strains, a vastly accelerated evolution can take place.
Symptoms of MRSA
Because MRSA is more likely to attack those with pre-existing conditions, such as infections or wounds, it is critical to get urgent treatment to avoid further deterioration in the patient’s overall health and avoid chronic disability.
MRSA can be symptomless in some individuals but typically, symptoms will include tenderness, discolouration, swelling and suppuration. Wounds may not heal at typical rates and the patient may feel nauseous, weak and may develop a fever. MRSA symptoms may vary depending on the location of the infection. Common areas for infection to occur include burns, the blood, catheter areas, eyes & surgical wounds.
To date MRSA remains susceptible to antibiotics although studies indicate the likelihood of a time when an entirely resistant strain emerging. Typically, considerably higher quantities of antibiotics over a longer duration, often administered intravenously, will be necessary to combat it. This can means greater discomfort to the patient.
The NHS recommends hospital patients reduce their risk of infection by:
Visitors can reduce the chance of spreading MRSA to other people by not sitting on the patient’s bed and by cleaning their hands before and after entering the ward. They should use hand wipes or hand gel before touching the person they are visiting.
Hand gel or hand wipe dispensers are often placed by patients’ beds and at the entrance to clinical areas.
Hospital staff that come into contact with patients should maintain very high standards of hygiene and take extra care when treating patients with MRSA: