Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus

A Guide for Patients and Visitors

Staphylococcus aureusStaphylococcus aureus (often called “staph”) are bacteria that are commonly carried on the skin or in the noses of healthy people. Sometimes, staph can cause an infection. Staph are one of the most common causes of skin infections in the United States. Most of these infections are minor, showing up as pimples or boils. Occasionally, staph cause more serious infections. MRSA is a kind of Staphylococcus aureus that is resistant to some kinds of antibiotics. When appropriately identified, staph and MRSA infections can be treated successfully.

MRSA is different from other staph because it cannot be treated with some antibiotics. When antibiotics are needed to treat MRSA infection, the right antibiotic must be used in order for the treatment to work. MRSA is similar to other staph in almost every other way:

  • MRSA and other Staphylococcus aureus can be carried on the skin or in the nose of healthy people and not cause infection or make them sick; this is called “colonization”
  • MRSA and other staph can cause minor skin infections that go away without special medical treatment
  • MRSA can spread the same way as other staph
  • The symptoms of MRSA are the same as other staph infections

Staph, including MRSA, can be spread by direct skin-to-skin contact, such as shaking hands, contact sports, or other direct contact with the skin of another person. Staph are also spread by contact with items that have been touched by people with staph, like towels or shared athletic equipment in the gym or on the field. In the hospital setting, staph and MRSA can spread to others indirectly on the hands of health care providers or on contaminated environmental surfaces or equipment. MRSA is almost always spread by direct contact and only rarely through the air by coughing or sneezing.

While you are in the hospital, you will notice staff taking special precautions. These precautions are taken to prevent the spread of MRSA. Many of our patients are in a weakened state and are susceptible to infection. Staff caring for you will wear gloves and gowns while in your room. A sign reading “Contact Precautions” is placed at the entrance to the room to alert providers to take special precautions.

Because MRSA can be spread on the hands, your health care providers will clean their hands with either alcohol hand rub or soap and water before and after they care for you. Please feel free to ask your health care providers if they cleaned their hands and remind them to do so.

You may leave your room, but you must take some precautions. Wash your hands and put on a clean gown or a clean robe. When you are out of the room, please do not touch other patients or items in the environment.

You may have visitors. Your visitors will be asked to wear gloves while in your room; visitors in the intensive care units are asked to wear gowns for added protection. Visitors should wash their hands before leaving your room. Hand hygiene is the best way to prevent the spread of MRSA. If your visitors take these precautions, it is very unlikely that they will get MRSA. If you have concerns about whether someone should visit, please talk to your doctor or nurse.

Once you return home, both you and your family members should wash your hands as part of routine hygiene. In most ways, this is no different than the hand washing most people practice to stay healthy. For example, wash before and after eating and after using the toilet. Wash your hands well with soap and water, rinse well, and dry completely. Surfaces in bathrooms, kitchens, and other areas should be cleaned on a regular basis using diluted household bleach.

If your family members provide personal care to you while you have an MRSA infection, they should take precautions and wear gloves and wash their hands afterward. If clothes or bedding become soiled, wash them in the washing machine with hot soapy water.

Yes. You may kiss and hug.

Most staph bacteria and MRSA are susceptible to several antibiotics, and many staph infections can even be treated without antibiotics by draining a sore or providing good wound care. If antibiotics are ordered, it is important to take all of the medication and call your doctor if the infection does not improve. Patients who are only colonized with staph bacteria or MRSA usually do not require any treatment.

Anyone providing care for you needs to know if you have MRSA. This includes doctors, nurses, and anyone who may be providing care in your home. This helps to avoid spread and to provide you with the best treatment.