MRSA Awareness

Everyone has heard of the hospital superbug MRSA and many have a view on how to stop it. I recently came across the results of a survey carried out in Ireland*, to assess the knowledge and perception of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) among the general public.

The study concluded…

“The public are generally knowledgeable about MRSA but most agreed that they would feel angry and afraid by its diagnosis. Future public education campaigns on MRSA should be aware of this response.”

MRSA infection can be very serious or even fatal so it’s easy to understand why people would be afraid of a diagnosis. I was pretty scared when first diagnosed with MRSA but I can honestly say that I did not feel angry about it. The only time I felt any anger was when I was exposed to the stigma attached to MRSA, by hospital staff who had not been properly trained in infection control. Why is it then that most people in the above survey, agreed that they would feel angry if diagnosed with MRSA?

I can’t help but feel that the media coverage of MRSA has a lot to do with the opinion of the general public. The newspaper coverage tends to be alarmist in nature and is centered around individual’s stories. MRSA is a problem and should be reported but the media should reflect the whole story about MRSA.

Hospital cleaning is part of the answer but so is the reduction of antibiotic use, which is regarded as one of the most effective ways of reducing MRSA. More microbiologists are needed as well as more infection control nurses. Increasing the number of isolation units so those with MRSA can be treated without the fear of infecting others, is also part of the answer as well as reducing bed occupancy rates in hospitals.

And always remember… the most important thing you can do to reduce the spread of MRSA, is to wash your hands thoroughly and often. If soap or water isn’t available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

How do you think you would feel if you, or someone close to you, was diagnosed with an MRSA infection? Would you feel angry?

* This survey was published in the British Journal of Infection Prevention.

12 Responses to MRSA Awareness

  1. Annb says:

    That’s a very interesting point you raise Steph. I remember being alarmed by my mother’s reaction to the news that Rory was a carrier of MRSA – the bacteria were present but he wasn’t ‘infected’. She warned me not to tell anyone as she felt we would be ostracized – she likened it to the stigma of having TB in the family years ago (an experience of which sadly she had all too much experience) TB was associated with being dirty and poor. Although well educated and intelligent she still reacted to the situation with the memory of her own family trauma.

    I think the modern world has led us to look for someone to blame, hence the angry reaction cited by the survey respondents. I absolutely agree that better information is required as to the ubiquity of the presence of MRSA in the community. Many healthy people walk around with it and never know they have it. Instead of stigmatizing patients we should take collective responsibility for the health of our community. MRSA is a real and present danger but only when best practice is not observed such as reduction in the prescription of antibiotics and proper hygiene techniques.

    Your blog is certainly making a valuable contribution to the debate – keep up the good work!

    • Steph says:

      Annb – Thanks! I think you’re absolutely right about the culture of blame today.

      However, I’m also suspicious that the words ‘angry’ and ‘afraid’ were the words used by the surveyors. If you see the conclusion of the report, it states that “most people agreed that they would feel…” i.e. those surveyed were asked if they’d feel angry and because of the constant media focus on MRSA in hospitals and the sensational language used, people tend to react with outrage.

      I understand your Mum’s reaction at the time, to Rory’s colonisation with MRSA. Certain people were like that with me too but because I had an MRSA surgical site infection, the reaction tended to be more one of worry for my wellbeing rather than worry about what anyone else thought.

      I only ever once came across the stigma attached to TB when a woman with whom I was doing a training course, completely broke down when she started to talk about the effect that TB had had on her family when she was a little girl. It really opened my eyes to how much people suffered when families were torn apart, often for years at a time while various family members were isolated in TB hospitals.

  2. Nancy says:

    Yes, Steph, I think I would be angry,very angry,if I were told I had MRSA. It’s my opinion that the medical profession is to blame for this infection by first,overprescribing antibiotics for the least little thing and second,for not being careful enough about strict cleanliness in the hospital setting.

    Then, to add insult to injury they want to blame us and,as AnnB has suggested ,attach a stigma to the poor person who was infected by their actions.

    It’s a little like the wife being blamed for her husband’s shirt having “Ring around the collar”. As my blunt and outspoken Mother used to shout back at the telly, “When is HE going to wash his neck?”

    • Steph says:

      Nancy – Hello cousin!

      Since writing the blog post last night, I’ve been thinking some more about my reaction to being diagnosed with MRSA 5 years ago.

      I knew precious little about MRSA in those days as there was very little media attention compared to now. I honestly thought that I’d just been terribly unlucky and my only concern at the time, was to beat the bug-ger!

      Once I’d got over the shock of the diagnosis, I put all my energy into focussing on getting better rather than wasting it on playing the blame game.

      Now that I’m better informed about MRSA and more aware of the infection control protocol which should be followed in hospitals, I guess I would be much less accepting of the situation if I were to become infected again.

      The treatment of MRSA is a costly business and with strict budget restraints operating in most Irish hospitals at the moment, it pays for them to improve on hospital cleanliness.

      I think the overuse of antibiotics can’t be totally blamed on doctors as many patients demand a prescription even when the doctor advises against. I do agree with you though that dirty hospitals and poor infection control techniques, are totally unacceptable. I believe we all have a part to play in reducing the spread of infection.

  3. magnumlady says:

    I agree with you that anti-biotics are over used in hospitals. Also the staff do need to learn to wash their hands.
    I’ve seen so many cases of doctors going from one patient to another without washing their hands.

  4. Lily says:

    I only now read your earlier post, not being a blog reader in 2007. It gives great insight into the human story behind MRSA infection. Your description of the immediate aftermath on being told the news really hit me.

    A(nother) great post.

    • Steph says:

      Lily – A million thanks. That means a lot to me.

      I gave the three posts I wrote specifically about MRSA, the title of ‘A Lonely Journey’ as that’s exactly how it felt at the time.

      In some ways, the experience of being put into isolation (with restrictions imposed) resonates with imprisonment except that in the case of MRSA, the prisoner hasn’t committed any crime!

      Here’s a link to another post which is a follow-on from the earlier post…

      http://biopsyreport.com/2007/07/07/coping-with-the-diagnosis/

  5. Dee says:

    My baby who has been in the hospital all her life (6 months) was found to be a carrier of MRSA. WHile the staff down-played it, she is being treated like a leper in the rehab. facility where she is getting feeding therapy even though there are tens of thousands of people (mostly health care workers) who are also colonized with MRSA and just have never been labeled.
    WHile I have been vigilant to wash and purell my hands before and after contact with baby and her crib area, and have even agreed to gown up, I draw the line at wearing gloves to touch my little girl! It is the responsibility of the employees to disinfect their hands before entering each patient area so they do not carry MRSA to other patients, and my baby should not suffer by having NO skin to skin contact with her own parents! If they think gloves are so preventative (which they’re not, because I watch different nurses touch things in the room with dirty gloves on their hands) then they should have a rule that ALL patients be handled with gloves and allow families to have as normal an interaction and existence as possible! My baby has suffered so much with her very complicated NEC course; isolating her from all activities and treating her like a vermon is totally unacceptable. 😦

    • Steph says:

      Dee

      I’m so sorry to read of what you’re going through with your baby in hospital. I’m quite sure it’s been traumatic enough without the addition of MRSA colonisation in the picture.

      Unfortunately, the leper stigmatization of MRSA, is alive and well and I can totally empathise with you as I’ve experienced it first-hand and I’ve also experienced the down-playing of it too.

      MRSA is everywhere as you say and there is a great need for a review of the protocols used in hospitals. Standards tend to vary greatly and while strict protocol is observed in some areas of hospital practice, others are ridiculously lax.

      I admire your stance greatly. I hope your daughter be well enough to come home some day soon so that you can all enjoy being a normal family unit without having to ‘share’ your time together.

    • mizunogirl says:

      I really appreciated reading your experiences with MRSA. I am a new infection preventionist, and have seen both sides of it….some staff who feel that MRSA is all around us, and others who are terrified to go near a MRSA patient.

      For Health Care professionals, the need to use contact isolation is important because they are going patient to patient to patient, and some patients simply don’t have very good immune systems. Patients who come into hospital without MRSA *should* leave without it. Our hospital has a system that actually tracks this fairly aggressively. In your case, I am not sure I’d be all about gown and gloving, since you will hopefully be taking your sweet girl home with you some day and obviously not wearing gown and gloves at that point. I’d just ask that you visit with her, and not interact physically with other patients, which is probably not something you’d regularly do anyway.
      Sadly, a lot of health care providers are not really that well informed about isolation, etc.

      I’m so sorry that you and your daughter have had a difficult time at your rehab. I have a feeling gowning and such would not be so aggravating if you felt like your daughter was being helped in an loving and caring way. Thanks for sharing your experience!

      • Steph says:

        mizunogirl

        Delighted to hear that my experiences with MRSA have been read and appreciated by someone working in the area of infection prevention.

        I presume your comments re Dee’s baby were meant to be addressed to her?

        Thanks for commenting anyhow. I’ve enjoyed visiting your blog and educating myself re FAI!

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