Health conditions

MRSA in hospitals

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).

Read more about MRSA.

MRSA in hospitals

MRSA infection is a known risk associated with having any invasive surgery, procedure or device inserted, such as an intravenous catheter.

In WA, successful prevention programs to limit the spread of MRSA in hospitals and reduce the risk to patients have been in place since the 1980s.

However, not all MRSA infections are preventable and the risk of infection is also dependent on patient characteristics.

Your chances of getting MRSA in hospital may be higher if you:

  • have diabetes
  • have cancer
  • are obese
  • are taking medications to suppress your immune system, such as steroids
  • smoke.

What special precautions are taken to prevent MRSA in hospitals?

It is important to stop MRSA from spreading to other patients in the hospital. All hospitals have infection prevention and control policies in place to achieve this.

The most important strategy in preventing the spread of MRSA is for all staff, visitors and patients to frequently clean their hands before and after touching other people. This can be done by using an alcohol based hand rub or by washing them with soap and water.

If a patient is known to have MRSA, they will often be placed in a room by themselves, and staff may wear gloves and gowns while they are around them.

Will my medical treatment be different because I have MRSA?

No. Having MRSA will not interfere with your required medical treatment or care. If you have an infection and require surgery, your doctor may choose to delay the surgery for a few days to allow time for your infection to be treated.

Having MRSA does not prevent you from being admitted to other healthcare facilities, such as a private hospital or a residential care facility or attending a GP or dentist.

Decolonisation treatment

Your doctor or nurse may talk to you about decolonisation. This is when topical treatments are used to try and get rid of the MRSA you are carrying.

The treatment involves the use of antiseptic body washes and a nasal ointment for 5 days.

After you have finished the treatment, swabs to test for MRSA will be taken to check if you are still carrying the germ.

Currently, there is no vaccination against S.aureus or MRSA

What if I have had MRSA and need to go back to hospital?

When a patient is identified with MRSA, hospital staff will place a note on the hospital’s computer system. If that patient is readmitted to hospital at a later day, the system will alert staff to this, and they will ensure all appropriate measures are taken.

All WA public hospitals use and access the same computer system, so if an alert is placed on you for MRSA in one public hospital, all other public hospitals can see the alert as well. 

Private hospitals have their own computer alert systems and information is not shared between private and public hospitals. If you are readmitted to the same private hospital they will know you have had MRSA in the past.

However, if you are admitted to a different private hospital or a hospital outside of WA you will need to let the staff know on arrival that you have had MRSA so the special precautions can be taken.

It is always a good idea to tell your doctor or nurse that you have had MRSA.

What about my family and visitors?

It is quite safe for your family and friends to visit you. Visitors should always wash their hands before entering your room and again when they leave. You, your family or visitors should not assist other patients with personal care.

What happens when I go home?

Carrying MRSA on your skin will not affect other family members or friends, provided you have good hygiene practices. Hand hygiene is very important in stopping the spread of MRSA.

Always make sure any wounds are covered and don’t share personal items like towels, clothes or soap bars. MRSA can survive for long periods on surfaces such as table tops and chairs, so it is important to keep your environment clean.

More information

If you are in hospital, you can ask to speak to the infection prevention and control nurse.

Remember

  • MRSA is a known risk associated with any invasive surgery or procedure in hospital
  • Good hand hygiene is the best way to stop the spread of MRSA

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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