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What is MRSA?

MRSA stands for methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium commonly carried on the skin (MSSA). However, the issue is the methicillin resistance, which means it has developed a resistance to the most common antibiotic used for its treatment.

Can MRSA be treated with antibiotics?

Yes, it still can be treated, but antibiotic treatment is only for clinical infection. Patients who are not clinically infected, but are colonised with MRSA (i.e. carry it up their nose or on their skin), are treated with a disinfectant liquid soap and a cream put up the nose to reduce the levels there while they are in hospital.

How likely are you to die from MRSA?

This is unlikely.

Is it a flesh-eating bug?

Essentially the answer is no. However, some strains of Staphylococcus aureus, which may be methicillin resistant or not, can produce a toxin which is commonly know as a flesh eating bug. This is very rare.

What are the symptoms?

If you are colonised with (just carrying) MRSA there are no symptoms.

If you are clinically infected, the symptoms are the same as with any other infection (i.e. again dependent on where it is), but essentially for a skin infection, it's red, inflamed and painful, and you may have a temperature.

With a chest infection, you may produce green sputum and again have a temperature.

How can it be prevented?

It is not always possible to prevent acquiring MRSA or other bugs. Good standards of personal hygiene, including hand washing, can help.

Can it only be caught in hospital?

No. Certainly, in healthcare settings and communities such as nursing or residential homes, cross infection can take place and there is evidence of community spread.

Do you catch it because hospitals are dirty?

No, MRSA is not caught because hospitals are dirty. But the environment does have a role to play with spread in relation to many healthcare-acquired infections.

Can it be passed on from person to person? If so, how?

Yes, it can be passed from person to person, through direct contact without adequate hand washing after that contact. Or if somebody has a severe chest infection, MRSA can be passed via the respiratory route, through coughing.

What types of people are likely to catch MRSA?

Anybody can acquire MRSA. Whether or not it then causes any symptoms depends on whether they have severe medical problems.

Is there a cure for it?

This depends on how you define a cure. There are effective treatments. If you just carry the bug, essentially, you will have no symptoms. Therefore, acquisition by others who come into close contact may occur, but again they will have no symptoms and will not know they have got it unless they are screened.

It is unlikely that it will cause a clinical infection. There are several different antibiotic treatments available for infections.

Is there a long-term effect on your life if you have had the infection?

There is no evidence to suggest there is a long term effect on your life if you have had MRSA.

Are there any health insurance implications from contracting/carrying MRSA?

You will need to check with insurance companies, but we have no evidence to suggest so.

Is MRSA passed on to unborn children?

It is possible for a mother to pass MRSA onto the child via the birth canal during a normal delivery.

What can I do to prevent MRSA at home and when I come to hospital as a visitor or as a patient?

Essentially, good standards of personal hygiene, hand hygiene and the use of alcohol gels reduce the risk of cross infection with all organisms, not just MRSA.

How can I find out if I carry MRSA?

The only way to identify if you carry it is to be screened.

Do animals carry it?

Yes, there is an evidence base that suggests animals do carry MRSA, probably acquired from human sources.

Can animals pass it on to humans?

Yes, cats and dogs, for example, carry it on their paws. Stroking pets, and other contact with animal carriers, can pass the bacteria to humans.

Last reviewed: 23 January 2024