MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) screening

What is MRSA?

Staphylococcus aureus germs are very common – it’s estimated that one in three healthy people carry these on their skin, in their nose or in the back of their throat.  People carrying the germs on their skin are said to be colonised, but not infected. The germs are simply “hitching a lift” on the surface of the body and have not got inside the body tissues or blood stream.

When the germs are simply being carried on the surface of the skin, they are not harmful to a healthy person. Because of this, most people are never aware that they are carrying the germs. 

The germs can become harmful if they get under the surface of your skin where they can cause an infection such as a boil or abscess. This can happen if you have a cut or a wound. The germs can also get into the blood stream and cause blood poisoning.

Most S. aureus germs can be treated with medicines called methicillin-type antibiotics. However, certain types of the germs are resistant to methicillin - these germs are called MRSA.  MRSA is no more infectious than other forms of S. aureus but can be more difficult to treat.

How is MRSA spread?

You can become colonised with MRSA (or infected if it enters the body) by:

  • skin contact with a person carrying MRSA on their skin
  • contact with surfaces and objects that have been touched or used by someone carrying MRSA, such as door handles, razors, towels or sheets
  • touching an open wound or scratching damaged skin, if you are colonised by MRSA you can transfer the germ from your hands into your body

Who is most at risk of developing an MRSA infection?

MRSA infection is most likely to develop in people who:

  • have weakened immune systems, for example the elderly, premature or newborn babies, or people who already have another infection
  • have open wounds, burns, cuts or severe skin conditions such as leg ulcers or psoriasis

MRSA Screening

Hospitals will do a pre-operative risk assessment for MRSA, which takes into account your personal circumstances, recent medical history and the type of treatment or surgery you are having.  If you need to be screened for MRSA, your nurse will take a swab sample by rubbing a “cotton bud” lightly over your skin. Normally two to six swabs are taken from different areas of your body such as from your armpits, groin, nose and throat.

The swabs are sent to a laboratory to be examined. The results will be ready three to four days later. Your doctor will either discuss the results with you or send you a letter explaining them.

What happens if I am MRSA positive?

If you screen positive for MRSA and are waiting to have surgery then your doctor may prescribe you treatment for you to get rid of the germs to lower the risk of infection.

This may be done by washing the skin and hair with antiseptic lotion and shampoo and applying antibiotic cream to the skin, inner nose or existing cuts.  The treatment is usually completed at home and normally takes five days. Your doctor will give you detailed instructions about your treatment.

Will being MRSA positive prevent me coming into hospital?

No. If we know you are positive before admission, we will always consider trying to remove the MRSA. However sometimes it’s not possible to do so, for example if you:

  • need your operation quickly
  • have a skin condition such as severe eczema, dermatitis and are unable to use the washes, or if the washes don’t work or mix well with your normal skin treatment

If this is the case, you will still receive the same high standard of care as all our patients.

We aim to keep infection to an absolute minimum and all our patients are treated the same in terms of infection control care.

What happens if I am ill and have an MRSA infection?

MRSA infection can be treated. The resistance of the MRSA germs to certain types of antibiotics makes treatment more difficult, but not impossible.  Antibiotics will be given by mouth or through a drip in a vein, depending on the type of antibiotic used and severity of the infection.

Preventing the spread of MRSA and other infections in hospitals

In our hospitals we have a number of measures in place to limit the spread of infections:

  • doctors and nurses wash their hands or use alcohol hand rub to prevent germs transferring from one patient to the next
  • hospital wards, corridors and surfaces are regularly cleaned
  • surgical wounds and skin cuts are covered with dressings
  • patients are asked not to touch their wounds or damaged skin and to regularly wash their hands to prevent self-infection
  • people visiting patients are asked to wash their hands before and after visiting – visitors can wash their hands with soap and water at the hand wash sink, making sure they dry their hands afterwards, or they can use the alcohol hand rub provided
  • if visitors need to see more than one patient they should clean their hands before and after seeing each patient

If you are going into hospital there are a number of basic hygiene measures that you can take yourself:

  • keep your hands and body clean – take soap, a flannel, moist hand-wipes and your own razor into hospital
  • always wash your hands after using the toilet or commode
  • always wash your hands or clean them with a hand-wipe immediately before and after eating a meal
  • make sure that your bed area is cleaned regularly
  • report any unclean toilet or bathroom facilities to your nurse

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© Spire Healthcare Group plc (2016)