Health conditions

MRSA

What is MRSA?

Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium (germ) that commonly lives on the skin or in the nose or mouth of people (this is called colonisation). It is often referred to as staph or golden staph.

When staph becomes resistant to commonly used antibiotics (meaning the antibiotics are no longer effective) it is called methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Most of the time MRSA does not cause any problems and those who are colonised with it do not look or feel different from anyone else. However, like all staph, MRSA can cause infection if it gets into the body.

This can occur when you scratch or cut your skin, have a wound or if you have undergone surgery or have had invasive procedures performed in hospital or other healthcare setting MRSA infections are often more difficult to treat due to the reduced number of antibiotics available to effectively treat them.

How do you get MRSA?

MRSA is usually spread from person to person through direct contact with another person who is colonised or infected with MRSA.

It may also spread by having contact with items contaminated by a person with MRSA such as:

  • towels
  • wound dressings
  • door handles, taps and other surfaces.

MRSA is not usually spread through the air. Most people do not become infected if they pick up MRSA on their skin.

Signs and symptoms

There is no specific ‘MRSA disease’. The symptoms that develop with MRSA infection are common signs of local skin infection, such as:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • pain
  • heat
  • the presence of pus.

Some skin infections will develop into more serious infections like boils or deep abscesses.

In some cases S.aureus can enter the bloodstream, from either an existing infection such as a wound or abscess or from a medical device such as an intravenous catheter or IV.

Symptoms of blood stream infection are also not specific to S.aureus and can be the same as for other bacteria. Typically, signs and symptoms can include high fever, shaking and low blood pressure.

This can be a life-threatening illness and requires urgent medical treatment.

How do I know if I have MRSA?

People carrying MRSA harmlessly on their skin or in their nose show no signs or symptoms and it is impossible tell if a person has MRSA by looking at them.

If infection is suspected then the doctor will take a swab or specimen of the pus or wound discharge and send it to a laboratory for testing. It can take at least 48 hours for the laboratory to identify MRSA.

Notifiable disease

MRSA is a notifiable condition. This means doctors, hospitals and laboratories must inform the Department of Health of your diagnosis. Notification is confidential.

Where did I get the MRSA infection?

MRSA infection has traditionally been associated with hospitals but in recent years this has changed.

Community-associated MRSA infections (CA-MRSA)      

Over the last few years there has been an increase in MRSA infections in the community. CA-MRSA often causes infections in healthy people living in the community, who have not been in hospital or had any medical procedures.

It can spread to others who are in close contact with a person who has CA-MRSA, especially those who share the same household.

CA-MRSA usually causes skin infections, for example boils, that often occur again following initial treatment.

Find out more about CA-MRSA.

Healthcare-associated MRSA infections (HA-MRSA)

MRSA infection, like any other infection, is a known risk associated with having any surgery, procedure or device inserted.

Find out more information about MRSA in hospitals.

Treatment of MRSA infections

MRSA infections are treated with antibiotics.

While you have the infection

You can reduce the chances of spreading MRSA by following this advice:

  • Keep wounds, cuts and abrasions clean and covered until they are healed.
  • Don’t share personal items like towels, clothing, soap bars.
  • Wash your hands often or use an alcohol based hand rub, especially following any contact with your infection.
  • Adopt good personal hygiene habits.
  • Keep your environment clean – wipe surfaces regularly.

How can MRSA infection be prevented?

Correct hand washing procedures are the best defence against MRSA infection.

There is no vaccination against S.aureus or MRSA.

More information

  • If you are in hospital, you can ask to speak to the infection prevention control nurse.
  • See your doctor.
  • Ring healthdirect Australia on 1800 022 222.

Remember

  • MRSA infection can be spread both in the community and in hospital.
  • Correct hand hygiene procedures are the best defence against MRSA infection.

Acknowledgements
Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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