MRSA infection


MRSA infection



MRSA infection


MRSA is a type of bacterial infection that is resistant to a number of widely used antibiotics. This means it can be more difficult to treat than other bacterial infections. 

The full name of MRSA is meticillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. You may have heard it called a superbug.

Staphylococcus aureus (also known as staph) is a common type of bacteria. It is often carried on the skin and inside the nostrils and throat, and can cause mild infections of the skin such as boils andimpetigo.

If staph bacteria get into a break in the skin, they can cause life-threatening infections, such as blood poisoning or endocarditis (an infection of the inner lining of the heart).

How bacteria become resistant to antibiotics

Antibiotic resistance can occur in several ways.

Strains of bacteria can mutate and over time become resistant to a specific antibiotic.

Alternatively, if you are treated with an antibiotic, it can destroy many of the harmless strains of bacteria that live in and on the body. This allows resistant bacteria to quickly multiply and take their place.

The overuse of antibiotics in recent years has played a major part in antibiotic resistance and superbugs. This includes using antibiotics to treat minor conditions that would have got better anyway and not finishing a recommended course of antibiotics.

How do you get MRSA?

MRSA infections are more common in people who are in hospital or nursing homes. Doctors often refer to this as healthcare-associated MRSA (or HA-MRSA).

Hospital patients are more at risk because:

they often have an entry point for the bacteria to get into their body, such as a surgical wound

many patients are older and weaker, which makes them more vulnerable to infection

they are surrounded by a large number of people, which means bacteria can easily spread through direct contact with other patients or staff or contaminated surfaces

More recently, MRSA has been known to develop outside hospitals and nursing homes. This is known as community-associated MRSA (or CA-MRSA). It is more common in crowded environments where there is frequent skin-to-skin contact and hygiene is poor, such as sports teams, gyms, homeless shelters or army bases.

Preventing MRSA

In recent years, rates of MRSA have fallen because of increased awareness of the infection by both medical staff and the public. However, MRSA still places a considerable strain on healthcare services.

To reduce your risk of an MRSA infection:

wash your hands before and after visiting someone in a care home (many hospitals provide antibacterial gel in wards)

if you are going into hospital for an operation, ask to be screened for MRSA (see below)

don't be afraid to speak to your nurse or doctor if you have any concerns about hygiene in your hospital

put all disposable items, such as dressings, into the appropriate bins promptly

Screening for MRSA

Mos patients who are admitted to hospital for a planned procedure are screened for MRSA. This helps reduce the chance of patients developing an MRSA infection or passing an infection on to other patients.

An MRSA infection is most commonly diagnosed using a blood, urine, tissue or sputum (spit) culture.

This involves taking a sample of one or more of these substances and placing them in a dish of nutrients. This should encourage any staph bacteria that are present to reproduce and grow.

If the bacteria develop, different antibiotics can be directed at them to see if the bacteria have developed resistance to the antibiotics.

Treating MRSA

Minor skin infections may not require any treatment other than draining away any pus from the site of the infection.

Otherwise, infections can be treated with antibiotics that MRSA has not yet developed resistance to. The exact antibiotic used will depend on the specific strain of MRSA involved.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, antibiotic tablets or injections will be used and you may need to have a much longer course of treatment compared to a normal staph infection.

Read more about treating MRSA.

Symptoms of MRSA infection 

The symptoms of an MRSA infection will depend on what part of the body is infected. Many people carry the MRSA bacteria inside their nose but will never have any symptoms.

Skin and soft tissue MRSA infections

Boils and abscesses

An MRSA skin infection usually first develops as a painful bump or a mark in the skin that looks like an insect bite. The bacteria often enter the skin through a cut, graze or a hair follicle. This develops into a painful, pus-filled swelling (boil).

Some people have additional symptoms, such as a high temperature and a general feeling of being unwell. 

In some cases, MRSA can cause a larger, pus-filled lump to develop underneath the skin. This is known as an abscess.


MRSA contracted outside hospitals or care homes (called community-associated MRSA or CA-MRSA) is much rarer but often causes more extensive skin infections, including a type of infection called cellulitis.

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the deeper layers of skin and the layer of fat and soft tissues underneath the skin. The main symptom is the skin suddenly turning red, painful, hot and swollen.

Invasive MRSA infections

If the MRSA bacteria penetrate deeper inside your body or into your blood, they can cause serious infections.

Signs that you may have an invasive infection include:

a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above


a general sense of feeling unwell 



muscular aches and pains

pain, swelling and tenderness in the affected body part 

Invasive MRSA infections can lead to the following conditions:

blood poisoning (sepsis) - which could lead to septic shock, where your blood pressure drops to a dangerously low level

urinary tract infection - infection of the parts of the body used to take urine out of the body, such as the bladder

endocarditis - infection of the lining of the heart  

pneumonia - a lung infection 

septic bursitis - inflammation of bursa (small fluid-filled sacs under the skin) caused by a bacterial infection

septic arthritis - inflammation of a joint caused by a bacterial infection

osteomyelitis - a bone infection caused by bacteria

Causes of MRSA infection 

MRSA is caused by strains of bacteria that have developed resistance to a number of widely used antibiotics.

How MRSA spreads

MRSA bacteria are usually spread through skin-to-skin contact with someone who has an MRSA infection or who is colonised by the bacteria. Colonised means bacteria are present on your body but do not cause any symptoms.

The bacteria can also spread through contact with towels, sheets, clothes, dressings or other objects that have been used by a person infected with or colonised by MRSA.

MRSA can survive for long periods on objects or surfaces, such as door handles, sinks, floors and cleaning equipment.

MRSA in hospital

It's more common for someone to develop MRSA while they are in hospital or a care home (known as healthcare-associated MRSA - HA-MRSA). This is because people in hospital:

often have a point that allows bacteria to enter their body, such as a surgical wound, burn, catheter (a tube used to drain away urine) or an intravenous tube - if a patient who is colonised with MRSA bacteria touches their wound or catheter tube, they may infect themselves

tend to be older and have more complex health problems than the general population - which makes them more vulnerable to infection

are surrounded by a large number of people, both patients and staff - this makes it is easier for bacteria to spread from person to person, or from a person to an object and then to another person

Who is at risk?

You may be at an increased risk of developing MRSA in hospital, if you have:

a weakened immune system, for example in elderly people, newborn babies and people with a long-term health condition, such as type 2 diabetes

an open wound

a catheter or an intravenous drip

a burn or cut on the skin

a severe skin condition, such as a leg ulcer or psoriasis


are taking frequent courses of antibiotics

MRSA infections usually develop in people being treated in hospital, particularly patients in intensive care units (ICUs) and on surgical wards.

MRSA in the community

MRSA contracted outside hospitals is known as community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA). It's much less common than HA-MRSA.

However, in recent years the number of cases has increased and could continue to increase in the future. The following factors increase your risk of getting CA-MRSA:

living in a very crowded environment - for example a military base, prison or student hall of residence

frequent skin-to-skin contact - outbreaks of CA-MRSA have been reported in people who play contact sports, such as rugby

cut or grazed skin - this is more vulnerable to infection, as are people who regularly inject illegal drugs, such as heroin

contaminated items and surfaces - places where many people share utensils, tools or where many people are likely to touch the same surfaces

lack of cleanliness - outbreaks of MRSA can occur in homeless people or in people on active military duty who have limited access to cleaning facilities

previous use of antibiotics

 Treating MRSA infection  

If you are diagnosed with an MRSA infection, your recommended treatment plan will depend on several factors.

These include:

the type of infection you have

the site of the infection

the severity of your symptoms

the antibiotics that the specific strain of MSRA is sensitive to

Some possible treatment plans are outlined below.


You may be screened for MRSA if you are going into hospital. If you are found to be colonised with MRSA (where bacteria are present on your body but they do not cause any symptoms), removing the bacteria is usually relatively straightforward.

An antibacterial bodywash or powder can be used to remove MRSA from your skin. A cream can be used to remove it from inside your nose and an antibacterial shampoo can be used to remove it from your scalp.

You will usually be asked to repeat the process once a day for five days. You do not have to be admitted to hospital to carry out the process. You can do it at home before you go into hospital.

 Skin and soft tissue infections 

Minor skin and soft tissue infections, such as smaller boils orabscesses, may only require a treatment called incision and drainage.

Incision and drainage involves piercing the tip of the boil or abscess with a sterile needle or scalpel. This encourages the pus to drain out, which should help relieve pain and stimulate the recovery process. Before having the procedure, you are likely to be given a local anaesthetic to numb the affected area.

More extensive skin infections, such as cellulitis (an infection of the underlying layers of skin), will usually require a 5- to 10-day course ofantibiotic tablets.

It is hard to predict what antibiotic you will be given. The choice depends on the result of testing and, in some cases, what part of the country you live in. Different regions of England often have different patterns of antibiotic resistance.

You're likely to be given a 7- to 14-day course of antibiotic injections if you develop a skin or soft tissue infection in hospital and you're more vulnerable to the effects of the infection. This might be because you have burns or a surgical wound.

 Invasive infections and MRSA carriers in hospital 

If you are found to carry MRSA, or are infected with MRSA in hospital, it's likely that you will need to be transferred to an isolation room. This reduces the risk of the bacteria spreading to other patients and possibly infecting them.

You may be placed in a room by yourself or in a small ward with other people who have an MRSA infection. You should still be able to have visitors, but it is very important that they clean their hands thoroughly before and after visiting you and before and after touching you.

Treatment for an invasive MRSA infection will involve a course of antibiotic injections. Depending on the type and location of the infection, this could last up to six weeks.

A combination of antibiotics may be used.

blood poisoning






toxic shock syndrome

 Caring for wounds after surgery 

The hospital will advise you how long to leave a dressing in place after surgery.

If you need to change the dressing at home, make sure your hands are clean and try not to touch the wound.

If you notice any signs of infection, such as swelling, pus or fever, speak to your GP or call 111. You could also visit an walk-in centre or minor injuries unit.

 Preventing MRSA infection  

Hospital staff, patients and hospital visitors can take simple hygiene measures to help prevent the spread of MRSA and stop infection.


Hospital patients can reduce their risk of infection by:  

always washing their hands after using the toilet or commode (many hospitals now routinely offer hand wipes)

always washing their hands or cleaning them with a hand wipe immediately before and after eating a meal

making sure their bed area is regularly cleaned and reporting any unclean toilet or bathroom facilities to staff

Try not to be afraid to talk to staff if you are concerned about hygiene.


Visitors can reduce the chance of spreading MRSA to other people by not sitting on the patient's bed and by cleaning their hands before and after entering the ward. They should use hand wipes or hand gel before touching the person they are visiting.

Hand gel or hand wipe dispensers are often placed by patients' beds and at the entrance to clinical areas.

 Hospital staff 

Hospital staff who come into contact with patients should maintain high standards of hygiene and take extra care when treating patients with MRSA.

Staff should thoroughly wash and dry their hands before and after caring for a patient, before and after touching any potentially contaminated equipment or dressings, after bed making and before handling food. 

Hands can be washed with soap and water or, if they are not visibly dirty, a fast-acting antiseptic solution like a hand wipe or hand gel.

Disposable gloves should be worn when staff have physical contact with open wounds, for example when changing dressings, handling needles or inserting an intravenous drip. Hands should be washed after gloves are removed.

The hospital environment, including floors, toilets and beds, should be kept as clean and dry as possible.

Patients with a known or suspected MRSA infection should be isolated.

Patients should only be transferred between wards when this is strictly necessary.

These steps aim to reduce the chance of patients infecting themselves and others.

 Preventing community-associated MRSA 

The following advice will help reduce your risk of catching or passing on MRSA outside hospital:

Regularly wash your hands and have frequent showers or baths.

Keep your fingernails short and clean because bacteria can grow under larger nails.

Do not share any products that come into contact with your skin, such as soaps, lotions, creams and cosmetics.

Do not share unwashed towels.

Do not share any personal items that come into contact with your skin, such as razors, nail files, toothbrushes, combs or hairbrushes, without thoroughly cleaning them first.

If you develop a skin or soft tissue MRSA infection:

Cover it with a dressing unless you are told not to by the doctor in charge of your care.

Wash your hands after touching affected areas of skin and potentially infected materials, such as used dressings.

Dispose of any potentially infected material promptly and safely in a dustbin or similar.

 MRSA screening 

All patients going to hospital for a relevant planned procedure are now offered a simple swab test to see whether they are carrying MRSA.

You will be offered treatment for MRSA to get rid of it if you're found to be carrying the bacteria before you go into hospital.

 Screening: MRSA frequently asked questions  

This page contains answers to some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about MRSA.

Why am I being screened for MRSA?

When and where will I be screened for MRSA?

How will I be screened for MRSA?

When will I get the results from the swabs?

What happens after I have been screened?

What happens if I am a carrier of MRSA?

What treatment is used to get rid of MRSA from my skin? 

What if my operation is urgent?

 Why am I being screened for MRSA? 

Many people carry MRSA on their skin or in their nose.

If the hospital find you are carrying MRSA before you go in, it can use a simple treatment to get rid of as much of the bacteria as possible. This means there is a smaller chance of you getting an MRSA infection or passing MRSA on to another patient.

When and where will I be screened for MRSA?

Usually you will be screened before you come into hospital for an operation. This may be in a pre-admission assessment clinic, an outpatient clinic or sometimes at your GP surgery.
Typically, a nurse will take swabs as part of other checks, such as blood pressure and blood tests, leading up to your hospital stay.

How will I be screened for MRSA?

A nurse will take a sample of bacteria using a swab. A swab is a cotton bud that is placed on the area of skin to be tested. Swabs may be taken from different places, such as the inside of your nose, your armpit or your groin. Swabbing is painless and only takes a few seconds.

When will I get the results from the swabs?

Your swabs will be sent to a laboratory, which tests them for MRSA. The results usually take three to five days, but may come back on the same day.

What happens after I have been screened?

If you are found to be carrying MRSA on your skin or in your nose, you will be contacted by the hospital or your GP. Don't worry if you are contacted. Many people carry MRSA. Carrying MRSA does not make you ill and you are not a risk to healthy people. Healthy older people, pregnant women and children are not usually affected by MRSA. A doctor or nurse will let you know what to do next.

If you are not carrying MRSA, you are unlikely to be contacted by the hospital or your GP. If you are not contacted, continue with your hospital care as planned.

What happens if I am a carrier of MRSA? 

If you are carrying MRSA on your skin, you may not be able to have your planned operation or procedure straight away. You may need to be treated for MRSA first to protect you and other patients from getting ill.

What treatment is used to get rid of MRSA from my skin?

Your doctor or nurse will discuss treatment with you. It usually involves using an antibacterial wash or powder and a special cream in your nose.

You may be asked to change your clothes, sheets and pillowcases every day, usually for five days.

You do not need to be in hospital while you are using the treatment. Continue until the day of your operation or procedure or until the five days are complete. You do not usually need to be screened again before you come into hospital.

What if my operation is urgent?

If your operation is urgent and you need to go into hospital quickly, you may be admitted to a side room in the hospital and started on MRSA treatment as soon as possible.