Confused about MRSA?

Hardly a day passes without another MRSA story hitting the headlines. People are right to be concerned about this resistant superbug but sometimes the stories do not match the facts, and misunderstandings occur. I am no expert when it comes to talking about MRSA but I have learnt enough through my own experience of MRSA infection, to be able to share some facts with you.

So, what does it mean when someone says “I’ve got MRSA”?

This seems to be an area where much confusion exists. First of all, it should be clarified that a person can be either ‘colonised’ with or ‘infected’ by MRSA. People who are colonised usually have no symptoms but they still have the potential to pass on the bacteria by touch. Those who have an infection caused by MRSA are usually unwell and will require treatment.

MRSA Colonisation

The significance of being ‘colonised’ with MRSA is often poorly understood. Some people harbour the bacteria in their nostrils or on the surface of the skin without being aware that they are colonised, and they remain well. It is possible to pick it up on your skin by simply touching a contaminated surface or indeed from another person who is colonised but it will not cause harm unless it enters your system through microscopic breaks in the skin. When someone is found to be colonised it does not mean that they will automatically go on to develop an infection. As long as you are well there is no need to be unduly alarmed. You should remain extra vigilant for any unusual skin complaints or if you develop a high temperature and seek medical attention if in any doubt. You will be given instructions on how to de-colonise yourself with topical agents such as nasal ointment and bodywash/shampoo to eradicate nasal and skin carriage. It is important to remember however that a colonised person is a ‘carrier’ of MRSA and has the potential to colonise/infect others through contact. This is the reason why stringent infection control measures are required in hospitals as patients who are already ill, are at high risk of developing an MRSA infection. Many people are carriers without realising it and therefore it is really important that everyone takes the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of bacteria. Hospital visitors should observe good hand hygiene and use alcohol gel on their hands before and after visiting a patient. Ideally, hospital visiting should be kept to a minimum.

MRSA Infection

When somebody receives a diagnosis that they are ‘infected’ with MRSA they are usually already unwell. MRSA is not only restricted to hospital settings. Community-Acquired MRSA (CA-MRSA) is a rapidly emerging public health problem in the USA but it is rarely seen in Ireland. It causes pimples and boils and can infect wounds and grazes. A culture (swab) is required to determine the sensitivities of the bacteria and the duration of treatment will depend on severity of illness and clinical response. However the most prevalent form of MRSA seen in Ireland is Hospital-Acquired (HA-MRSA) infection. It thrives in hospitals where people are in close proximity and may have their defences already weakened by illness. Those who have had recent surgery or who are immuno-compromised are also at high risk of infection. The hospital environment also tends to be rife with multi-resistant bacteria as a result of the heavy use of antibiotics. The types of infections seen are wound infections, chest infections, bone infections or bloodstream infections and these have the potential to cause serious illness, or even death. Hospital acquired infections can be very difficult to treat and usually require long-term intra-venous treatment with a combination of antibiotics.

A reduction in antibiotic consumption levels, frequent and proper hand washing, and improved basic hygiene levels in hospitals are all essential to reduce the level of contamination. Hand hygiene is the single most effective defence against the spread of MRSA. This means that staff, patients and visitors alike all have a simple but important role to play in the fight against MRSA.

14 Responses to Confused about MRSA?

  1. Knipex says:

    A nice simple concise explanation.

    Well done

    I would however like to make one point. Basic Hygeine in hospitals, on its own, has little or no effect in the reduction of MRSA in the environement. Basic Hygeine while a very important fist step, is still only a first step. The next step is the decontamination of all surfaces to remove reservoirs of pathogens (such as MRSA and C diff)

  2. Julie says:

    Our family has spent the last 5 years sharing mrsa! It started with our 2 year old daughter. Huge boils, intense pain and many hospital visits…..She had them (one at a time) on her butt, abdomen, legs, shoulders and arms. Every doctor told us not to worry, they were just spider bites. We fumigated our house three times, though, and the boils kept coming. We haven’t had a spider inside in 5 years now.

    Then one day my husband got one. It showed up on his butt. Then he got another and another until they were coming in two’s. His backside is littered with scars from past boils. What did the doctors say? Spider bites. One picture that I took of one of his boils shows an area about the size of a quarter, full of honeycomb-like holes. It looked like his flesh was being eaten away! The doctor said it was a spider bite and that he could see where the spiders fangs had bitten. I couldn’t figure out which two holes he was talking about because there were about 12 all together.

    Then my 9 year old stepdaughter, who visits every other weekend, got a “boil”. Her mother took her to a Dr. on the other side of town who perscribed bactroban cream to be put into her nostrils. It worked! she never got another “spider bite”!

    I took my daughter to yet ANOTHER Dr., armed with newspaper clippings, internet printouts and pictures of my husband’s “spider bites”, and he finally perscribed bactroban for my daughter, too. She hasn’t had a “spider bite” (MRSA boil) in about 7 months now!

    In the meantime, our neighbor AND myself started developing boils! AAARGH! My daughter spends a lot of time with our neighbors and somehow passed it along to them. They got immediate attention and bactroban and are doing great.

    Now my 15 year old daughter has started getting boils! (Will it EVER end?!?!).

    On tuesday I took my husband to the Dr. He had a huge boil on his knee and another on his pinky finger. I went into the room with him and the doctor and tried very hard to give the Dr. some background so that he would “fix” my husband once and for all. He talked over me and didn’t want to hear anything I was saying. His answer was an ingrown hair or “cellulitis”, and he wasn’t going to do anything except maybe for cutting my husband’s pinky boil open and draining it. When my husband asked for an antibiotic, he refused. We left the Dr.’s office with nothing. That night my husband was called away for work to Alaska. By the time he got there, the pain was so severe (the boils were about 3 days along by then), that he went back to the Dr. They immediately gave him a morphine drip and drained (read cut open….surgery)the pus from both areas.

    Today the test results are back……MRSA. Lucky for him, it’s not the “untreatable” kind, and he’s coming home tomorrow. So……from COUNTLESS “spider bites”, to “cellulitis”, to “ingrown hairs”…………..and FINALLY………to a DOCTOR who actually sent out samples to be TESTED……….I cannot tell you how happy we all are to finally have someone in our family who’s actually been DIAGNOSED with MRSA.!!!! Maybe NOW we can get it fixed! Only 5 YEARS and 50 Dr. visits later.

    On Monday the whole family is going to the Dr. to get what we need to get to have this thing taken care of once and for all. The Dr. in Alaska has “perscribed” it, so we’re going in with both guns drawn and a doctor and a diagnosis to back it up!


  3. Steph says:

    Welcome Julie!

    Sorry to hear about all that your family has been going through.

    You’ve outlined your situation very clearly. I can’t believe the Docs in your area really think that those boils are caused by spider bites. It seems very odd especially when CA-MRSA is not a new phenomena in the States. Your story would make you wonder what’s really going on? Thankfully, CA-MRSA is not a big problem in Ireland – not yet anyhow – where hospital acquired infections (HA-MRSA and C-Difficile) continue to rule the roost!

    Good luck on Monday! I hope you finally get the prescription needed.

  4. linda delucian says:

    worried about my grandaughter 19 months old has mrsa can it be gone forever othere members of family are afraid of her getting in ipool water with othere kids and her touching others.

  5. Steph says:

    Hi! Linda. You sound like a very caring grandmother.

    It’s very understandable to be worried. There is not nearly enough information given to MRSA patients and their families.

    When you say your grandaughter ‘has’ MRSA, I presume you mean that she is infected with it as opposed to simply being ‘colonised’? There is a big difference between the two in terms of treatment and well-being. If she had an MRSA infection and has had thorough antibiotic treatment then in theory, she should be clear of infection although she may still be colonised. Has she been through a decolonisation programme using a special body wash and shampoo?A recurrence of infection is always possible but so are lots of other things.

    As regards, being infectious to others – that is only a risk as long as she remains infected/colonised and only if she mixes with someone who has a cut/open wound or is unwell through serious illness. A healthy person can become contaminated by another contaminated/infected person but as long as they are well, it will not harm them. I hope this is of some help to you.

  6. Wendy says:

    I wonder if this is what has been going on with me for years now? I have had countless boils come up on me, usually on the bottom of my stomach, and the inside of my upper thighs. I went to the doctor several times and he always said they were ingrown hairs. He would tell me to wash with gold dial soap everyday to keep from getting them, but I would still get another. I just quit going to the doctor and have just dealt with them. I have lots of terrible looking scars from them. My 17 year old son started getting the same boils about a year ago and I told him to use the dial. Now last night, my 15 year old daughter came to me with one on her upper inner thigh. Do you think this could be MRSA??!!

  7. Steph says:

    Wendy – Sorry to hear about the problems you’re having.

    I really can’t say what’s the cause. If it is MRSA it’s likely to be community acquired MRSA (CA-MRSA) which is very treatable but you would have to have a swab taken from an oozing boil before a diagnosis can be made. The fact is, you and your family members are not ill with the problem and so it’s more likely that this is a skin problem as opposed to a bloodstream infection. I suggest you verbalise your fears to your doctor and ask him to rule out CA-MRSA. I wish you the best of luck with it.

  8. Amanda says:

    My husband may have MRSA. He had a Defibrillator(pacemaker) put in his chest in July2006
    A wire slipped from his heart and in August2006 they had to replace it. For the last 3 years my husband has had many infections around the area of the defib. For the last 2 years he has been getting boils in his groin area. Finally in February2009 the Area around his defib was so badly infected that the infection was coming to the surface and trying to come out. The Dr. finally agreed to take the defib out. My husband was put on IV antibiotics for 7 weeks. During that time he had 0 boils. He has been off the antibiotics for a little over 2 weeks and now he has another boil. If he has MRSA does that mean I do to?? What about our 3 teenage boys???
    If we don’t have How do we keep from getting it without avoiding part of our Family????????
    Please Help!!!!

  9. Amanda says:

    P.S. My husband goes to the Hospital Friday to get a new Defibrillator put in!!!

  10. Steph says:

    Amanda – Hello! I hear your worry.

    I’m not in a position to give medical advice. It’s your doctor you should ask these questions to, not me. Has the subject of MRSA ever been discussed in your husband’s case? If not, why don’t you ask, it’s your right to know. Was he nursed in isolation? If yes, it’s highly likely his infection is a hospital superbug such as MRSA.

    If your husband is infected with MRSA, you and your family are quite likely to be contaminated but as long you are all well and healthy, you are not at risk. As I’ve explained in the post, being colonised is a very different matter to being infected and many. many people are colonised without realising it.

    I hope all goes well.

  11. Christin M. says:

    My 60 year old brother is in the hospital right now. After a craniotomy in June he has developed MRSA, C-diff and Cellulitis. He is very sick. Is there hope for him?

    • Steph says:


      I’m sorry, I can’t give you medical advice. I suggest you contact the medical team who are looking after your brother. I hope they can give you some reassurance.

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