MRSA is by definition a strain of Staphylococcus aureus that is resistant to a large group of antibiotics called the beta-lactams, which include the penicillins and the cephalosporins. In breaking that down, it is easier to just state that MRSA is a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to certain antibiotics.
MRSA can be fatal. The MRSA bacteria are commonly found on the skin or in the nose of healthy people. Staph bacteria are present in the nose of approximately 25% to 30% of the population without causing an infection, while MRSA is present in only about 1 percent of people.
Most MRSA infections occur in hospitals or other health care settings, such as nursing homes and dialysis centers. It’s known as health care-associated MRSA, or HA-MRSA. Older adults and people with weakened immune systems are at most risk of HA-MRSA. More recently, another type of MRSA has occurred among otherwise healthy people in the wider community. This form, community-associated MRSA, or CA-MRSA, is responsible for serious skin and soft tissue infections and for a serious form of pneumonia.
Staph skin infections, including MRSA, generally start as small red bumps that resemble pimples, boils or spider bites. These can quickly turn into deep, painful abscesses that require surgical draining. Sometimes the bacteria remain confined to the skin. One major problem with MRSA is that occasionally the skin infection can spread to almost any other organ in the body. When this happens, more severe symptoms develop. MRSA that spreads to internal organs can become life-threatening. Fever, chills, low blood pressure, joint pains, severe headaches, shortness of breath, and “rash over most of the body” are symptoms that need immediate medical attention, especially when associated with skin infections.
Both hospital- and community associated strains of MRSA still respond to certain medications. In hospitals and care facilities, doctors often rely on the antibiotic vancomycin to treat resistant germs. CA-MRSA may be treated with vancomycin or other antibiotics that have proved effective against particular strains. Although vancomycin saves lives, it may become less effective as well. Some hospitals are already seeing strains of MRSA that are less easily killed by vancomycin. In some cases, antibiotics may not be necessary. For example, doctors may drain a superficial abscess caused by MRSA rather than treat the infection with drugs.
Infection control is key to stopping MRSA in hospitals. Steps health care workers can take include:
• PROPER HANDWASHING!
• Covering coughs and sneezes
• Staying up-to-date with immunizations
• Using gloves, masks and protective clothing
• Making tissues and hand cleaners available
• Following hospital guidelines when dealing with blood or contaminated items
To prevent community-associated MRSA:
• Practice good hygiene
• Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed
• Avoid contact with other people’s wounds or bandages
• Avoid sharing personal items, such as towels, washcloths, razors, or clothes
• Wash soiled sheets, towels and clothes in hot water with bleach and dry in a hot dryer
There are two major ways people become infected with MRSA. The first is physical contact with someone who is either infected or is a carrier. The second way is for people to physically contact MRSA on any objects such as door handles, floors, sinks, or towels that have been touched by an MRSA-infected person or carrier. Normal skin tissue in people usually does not allow MRSA infection to develop; however, if there are cuts, abrasions, or other skin flaws such as psoriasis MRSA may grow. Many otherwise healthy individuals, especially children and young adults, do not notice small skin imperfections or scrapes and may be lax in taking precautions about skin contacts. This is the likely reason MRSA outbreaks occur in diverse types of people such as school team players (like football players or wrestlers), dormitory residents, and armed-services personnel in constant close contact.
People with higher risk of MRSA infection are those with obvious skin breaks (surgical patients, hospital patients with intravenous lines, burns, or skin ulcers) and patients with depressed immune systems (infants, elderly, or HIV-infected individuals) or chronic diseases (diabetes or cancer). Patients with pneumonia due to MRSA can transmit MRSA by airborne droplets.
Health-care workers as a group are repeatedly exposed to MRSA-positive patients and can have a high rate of infection if precautions are not taken. Health-care workers and patient visitors should use disposable masks, gowns, and gloves when they enter the MRSA-infected patient’s room.
In conclusion, MRSA can be fatal, but is also very preventable. Using good hygiene measures, (especially hand washing), will greatly reduce the risk of spreading.