First observed in 1960, Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a Gram-positive, multi-drug resistant strain of Staphylococcus aureus. MRSA is arguably the most well-known hospital-acquired bacterium commonly known as a “superbug”. The bacterium does not respond to many antibiotics, including methicillin, leading to infections that are difficult to treat. For this reason, it is important to be aware of the risk and sources of the bacteria. Whilst some MRSA infections are minor, some infections can be life-threatening.
Where can we find it?
MRSA, unlike some other bacteria, is seldom found in soil or water. It’s commonly found on human and animal skin, but it’s also present in healthy people’s nasal passages and mucosa as part of the normal microbiota in the upper respiratory tract. This bacterium can be carried harmlessly in around one out of every three individuals. As a result, the risk of catching a MRSA infection is higher in places where skin-to-skin contact is required. While hospitals are the most common sites for outbreaks, outbreaks have also occurred in gyms, prisons, and even schools in the past.
What can MRSA cause?
The bacterium can live symbiotically within a healthy body along other bacterial species; however, it can begin to cause infections and diseases when there is overgrowth and invasion of other tissues. MRSA can enter through a wound or other openings and invade deeper structures of the skin and other body parts, eventually becoming resistant to treatment. These infections can be divided into hospital- associated infections (HA-MRSA) and community-associated infections (CA-MRSA). They include bacteraemia, pneumonia, endocarditis, skin and soft tissue infections, bone and joint infections and hospital acquired infections (HAI’s).
The initial symptoms of the skin infection are small red lesions that may be swollen or painful resembling spider bites, pimples, or boils. However, if the bacterium invades the bloodstream in cases of severe infections, it can cause fever and chills. MRSA infections can grow severe if left untreated, resulting in sepsis (the body’s extreme reaction to an infection that results in damage to its own tissues).
How can it be transmitted?
MRSA can be transmitted in community and healthcare settings through coming into contact with infected people, carriers with contaminated wounds or by touching contaminated hands. Sharing personal items that may have been in contact with an infected person is also another mode of transmission.
There is a higher risk of MRSA transmission in crowded places where there is skin-to-skin contact and shared equipment or surfaces. Because of that, certain groups of people are more at risk of catching MRSA infections, for example, athletes, people receiving inpatient medical care, prison inmates and military personnel, children, and intravenous drug users.
Prevention & Control
Whilst it is impossible to eliminate the risk of MRSA, there are some simple steps you can take to avoid the infection, such as:
✓ Washing your hands well and often, particularly before handling food and after using the toilet
✓ Ensuring cuts and grazes are covered with a clean dressing
✓ Thoroughly cleaning bed sheets, towels and clothes and avoiding sharing them
✓ Keeping surfaces clean, particularly common touch points
Please note that BioLabTests does not test human, animal or food samples and we do not test for viruses.