Meticillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus
MRSA stands for Meticillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. Staphylococcus organisms often live on people’s skin. It is normal and around a third of the population in the UK carry it on their skin or in their nose.
MRSA is a close relation of this bacteria and is resistant to some antibiotics. Most people will be unaware they carry it but they can easily pass it on. That’s why we ask everyone visiting our hospitals to wash their hands thoroughly and to use the alcohol gels we provide.
These micro-organisms normally only cause a problem if they enter cuts or wounds. They can be a common cause of boils or minor skin infection. Most people found to have Meticillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) will remain well. It will not cause them to be ill and does not cause problems for healthy people.
MRSA can be a problem in hospitals where there are patients with wounds and who may have a poor ability to fight infections. MRSA can be treated by some antibiotics but not others. It is not the case that MRSA cannot be treated.
MRSA will generally only become a serious problem when it occupies open wounds, particularly in those patients whose immune systems are already under strain either through disease, or general debilitation.
Antibiotic use and MRSA
The rise of MRSA comes as a result of increased use of antibiotics. In 1944, more than 95 per cent of Staphylococcus aureus could be treated by penicillin. With the use of antibiotics since that time, however, that proportion has now shrunk to just 10 per cent.
This is why a lot of work is being done to limit the widespread antibiotic use that has led to this resistance over the past 50 to 60 years. MRSA was first identified in 1961 and it has been rising ever since. (Source: Minnesota Department of Health)
MRSA is an issue for the entire community but it only becomes apparent in hospital because we screen patients for MRSA and it is therefore detected, whereas at home and in the community it may not be.
Even domestic pets can be MRSA carriers, according to the Health Protection Agency. (Source: BBC Health)
Tackling MRSA – Handwashing
Our staff undertake compulsory training every year on infection control and good hand hygiene is a real focus for all our staff.
Our Matrons, our infection control nurses, and cleaning staff, constantly work to ensure high standards of cleanliness and hygiene and our hospitals have been awarded the highest category for cleanliness by outside inspectors from the Patient Environment Action Team.
We have also installed alcohol gel dispensers at the entrance to every ward, and at every bedside and we ask all visitors, patients and staff to use the gel on their hands when they arrive and leave the ward.
If patients or relatives have concerns that someone has not washed their hands they should feel free to raise it with that member of staff or a senior member of staff.
Screening patients before admission
Many people will carry MRSA (it is termed being colonised) and it will cause them no ill effects but it it is quite widespread in the community. It is certainly not the case that MRSA only exists in hospitals. This means it is quite possible to arrive in hospital already carrying MRSA (this applies to visitors as well as patients).
For a number of years we have undertaken risk assessments and screen certain types of high risk patients for MRSA before they come into hospital in order to best treat them and to avoid spreading the infection.
We use a risk assessment tool to identify high risk patients and the screen those in intensive care, or going for vascular surgery, or major thoracic surgery, followed by decolonisation when patients are found to be carriers.
We are extending our successful surgical pre-admission MRSA screening programme to all patients admitted as elective cases, as from 1 April 2009 and planning to extend this screening approach to include all patients in order to achieve screening for all admitted patients by 2011.