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Avoid The Superbug Part 3

Feb 15, 2008
This is the third part of a guide to avoiding the MRSA superbug. MRSA is an infection that is more dangerous than similar illnesses because it is resistant to normal treatment. MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (SA). SA is a type of bacteria and the fact that it is methicillin-resistant means it cannot be treated with antibiotics such as penicillin.

MRSA is no more infectious than other types of bacteria however, and one in three of us carry on our skin or in our nose. It causes skin infections such as boils, styes and impetigo, but is only really dangerous if it gets into the bloodstream when septicemia, joint problems and heart and lung infections can result. It spreads through physical contact, but generally only infects people with a weakened immune system. Hospital in-patients, particularly the elderly, newborn babies, and those with health problems such as diabetes, cancer or HIV/AIDS are most at risk.

How is MRSA diagnosed?

MRSA is diagnosed by testing blood, urine or tissue samples from the infected area. If MRSA bacteria are found, further tests are carried out to decide which antibiotics are most likely to treat the infection effectively. Many hospitals now test everyone who is admitted to see if they carry MRSA. Swabs from skin, the nose, and urine and blood samples will be testes and it can take three to five days for the results to come back. MRSA carriers will still be admitted, but doctors may give them additional treatment to reduce or remove the bacteria.

How is MRSA treated?

How you are treated depends on whether you are infected with the bacteria, or only a carrier of it. If you are infected you will be given the antibiotics that are still effective which are normally given either through injection or through a tube straight into a vein. Most cases require treatment in hospital and antibiotic courses may last for several weeks. If you are an MRSA carrier you may also be treated, particularly if you need to have an operation. If doctors want to remove MRSA before you enter hospital a special antibiotic cream will be applied to your skin or the inside of your nose. You may also need to wash your skin and hair with an antiseptic shampoo and lotion.

How can MRSA be prevented?

MRSA is usually contracted through human contact, often via the hands, so you should also make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before and after visiting hospital. Staff treating MRSA patients should always maintain high standards of hygiene. Before and after caring for any patient, hospital staff should ensure their hands have been thoroughly washed and dried.

Many hospitals now use antiseptic solutions such as alcohol rubs or gels, and you may find dispensers at entrances and by patient's beds for use by staff and visitors. Staff should also wear gloves when in contact with open wounds - for example when changing dressings, handling needles or inserting an intravenous drip.

What can I do to stop MRSA?

If you are prescribed antibiotics you should always make sure that you complete the full course so that all bacteria are killed off and none can survive to develop a resistance. If you are in hospital, you should also try to reduce the risk of infection by ensuring your own cleanliness. Always wash after using the toilet, and keep your hands and body clean. Take soap, a flannel and moist hand-wipes with you, as well as your own razor.

If you are concerned about hygiene, then do not be afraid to ask staff, or your visitors, if they have washed their hands. Make sure your bed area is cleaned regularly and report any unclean toilet or bathroom facilities to staff.
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