MRSA infection 

Introduction 

MRSA

Find out how MRSA is caught, what happens when you have it, and how hospital staff and visitors can help prevent infection.

Media last reviewed: 16/05/2013

Next review due: 16/05/2015

Having an operation

If your GP has suggested you may need surgery, this guide is for you

MRSA is a type of bacterial infection that is resistant to a number of widely used antibiotics. This means it can be more difficult to treat than other bacterial infections. 

The full name of MRSA is meticillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. You may have heard it called a superbug.

Staphylococcus aureus (also known as staph) is a common type of bacteria. It is often carried on the skin and inside the nostrils and throat, and can cause mild infections of the skin such as boils and impetigo.

If staph bacteria get into a break in the skin, they can cause life-threatening infections, such as blood poisoning or endocarditis (an infection of the inner lining of the heart).

Read more about the symptoms of a staph infection.

How bacteria become resistant to antibiotics

Antibiotic resistance can occur in several ways.

Strains of bacteria can mutate and over time become resistant to a specific antibiotic.

Alternatively, if you are treated with an antibiotic, it can destroy many of the harmless strains of bacteria that live in and on the body. This allows resistant bacteria to quickly multiply and take their place.

The overuse of antibiotics in recent years has played a major part in antibiotic resistance and superbugs. This includes using antibiotics to treat minor conditions that would have got better anyway and not finishing a recommended course of antibiotics.

How do you get MRSA?

MRSA infections are more common in people who are in hospital or nursing homes. Doctors often refer to this as healthcare-associated MRSA (or HA-MRSA).

Hospital patients are more at risk because:

  • they often have an entry point for the bacteria to get into their body, such as a surgical wound
  • many patients are older and weaker, which makes them more vulnerable to infection
  • they are surrounded by a large number of people, which means bacteria can easily spread through direct contact with other patients or staff or contaminated surfaces

More recently, MRSA has been known to develop outside hospitals and nursing homes. This is known as community-associated MRSA (or CA-MRSA). It is more common in crowded environments where there is frequent skin-to-skin contact and hygiene is poor, such as sports teams, gyms, homeless shelters or army bases.

Read more about the possible causes of MRSA

Preventing MRSA

In recent years, rates of MRSA have fallen because of increased awareness of the infection by both medical staff and the public. However, MRSA still places a considerable strain on healthcare services.

To reduce your risk of an MRSA infection:

  • wash your hands before and after visiting someone in a care home (many hospitals provide antibacterial gel in wards)
  • if you are going into hospital for an operation, ask to be screened for MRSA (see below)
  • don't be afraid to speak to your nurse or doctor if you have any concerns about hygiene in your hospital
  • put all disposable items, such as dressings, into the appropriate bins promptly

Read more about preventing MRSA.

Screening for MRSA

Most NHS patients who are admitted to hospital for a planned procedure are screened for MRSA. This helps reduce the chance of patients developing an MRSA infection or passing an infection on to other patients.

An MRSA infection is most commonly diagnosed using a blood, urine, tissue or sputum (spit) culture.

This involves taking a sample of one or more of these substances and placing them in a dish of nutrients. This should encourage any staph bacteria that are present to reproduce and grow.

If the bacteria develop, different antibiotics can be directed at them to see if the bacteria have developed resistance to the antibiotics.

Read more about NHS screening for MRSA.

Treating MRSA

Minor skin infections may not require any treatment other than draining away any pus from the site of the infection.

Otherwise, infections can be treated with antibiotics that MRSA has not yet developed resistance to. The exact antibiotic used will depend on the specific strain of MRSA involved.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, antibiotic tablets or injections will be used and you may need to have a much longer course of treatment compared to a normal staph infection.

Read more about treating MRSA.

Common questions about MRSA

Page last reviewed: 13/06/2013

Next review due: 13/06/2015

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The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

csmason96 said on 18 April 2013

this was really helpful for my science lesson today!

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csmason96 said on 18 April 2013

this was really helpful for my science lesson today!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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racheljp said on 03 September 2012


I had a bowel op last year and caught MRSA! I have since been told that I again have to have another operation. I am slightly concerned about getting MRSA again. My consultant as told me that I will be getting an antibiotic drip before and after they operate, what are my chances of being okay this time?

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hot mumma said on 04 May 2012

ive recently been told a family member has mrsa and that its spread to the nose groin and cervics shes saying shes had it a year but didnt know she just thought it was a bad case of trush she has children and her son had what we thought was exema but are now being told its mrsa but i cant find any info stating these symtoms also shes been told it can lead to cervical cancer and again cant find anything stating this

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