Frequently asked questions about MRSA screening 

Who should be screened for MRSA?

MRSA screening is usually carried out in people who need to be admitted to hospital for planned or emergency care.

In particular, it's recommended for certain groups at the highest risk of becoming infected with MRSA while they're in hospital. These include:

  • people who have been infected or colonised (carry the bacteria on their skin) with MRSA previously
  • people being admitted to certain "high-risk" hospital units – including surgery, cancer, kidney and trauma units

People who aren't staying in hospital overnight don't usually need to be routinely screened.

Why am I being screened for MRSA?

Many people carry MRSA on their skin. This is usually harmless, but it can cause problems if the bacteria get into the skin or infect someone in poor health.

People in hospital are particularly at risk of an MRSA infection, because they tend to have complex health problems and are surrounded by a large number of patients, visitors and staff who could spread the infection.

By carrying out a simple test to see if you carry MRSA on your skin, a simple treatment can be given to get rid of as much of the bacteria as possible before you're admitted to hospital, minimising the risk of yourself and others becoming infected.

When and where will I be screened for MRSA?

Usually, you will be screened before you come into hospital for an operation. This may be in a pre-admission assessment clinic, an outpatient clinic or at your GP surgery.

Typically, a nurse will take swabs as part of other checks, such as blood pressure and blood tests, leading up to your hospital stay.

How will I be screened for MRSA?

A nurse will run a cotton bud (swab) over your skin so it can be checked for MRSA bacteria.

Swabs may be taken from different places, such as the inside of your nose, your throat, your armpit, your groin and any areas of damaged or open skin. Swabbing is painless and only takes a few seconds.

When will I get the results from the swabs?

Your swabs will be sent to a laboratory, which will test them for MRSA. The results usually take three to five days, but may come back on the same day.

What happens after I have been screened?

If you are found to be carrying MRSA on your skin or in your nose, you will be contacted by the hospital or your GP. Don't worry if you are contacted. Many people carry MRSA.

Carrying MRSA does not make you ill and you're not usually a risk to healthy people, including healthy older people, pregnant women and children. A doctor or nurse will tell you what to do next.

If you are not carrying MRSA, you're unlikely to be contacted by the hospital or your GP. If you're not contacted, continue with your hospital care as planned.

What happens if I am a carrier of MRSA? 

If you are carrying MRSA on your skin, you may not be able to have your planned operation or procedure straight away. You may need to be treated for MRSA first to protect you and other patients from getting ill.

What treatment is used to get rid of MRSA from my skin?

Your doctor or nurse will discuss treatment with you. It usually involves using an antibacterial wash or powder and a special cream in your nose.

You may be asked to change your clothes, sheets and pillowcases every day, usually for five days.

You don't need to be in hospital while you're using the treatment. Continue until the day of your operation or procedure, or until the five days are complete. You don't usually need to be screened again before you go into hospital.

Read more about treating MRSA.

What if my operation is urgent?

If your operation is urgent and you need to go into hospital quickly, you may be admitted to a side room in the hospital and started on MRSA treatment as soon as possible.

Page last reviewed: 28/04/2015

Next review due: 28/04/2017