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What is MRSA?

MRSA bug

MRSA is sometimes erroneously referred to as MRSA Virus. In fact it is a bacteria, and you can learn about MRSA and MRSA symptoms on this page.


MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus), is a form of bacteria from the Staphylococcus aureus (SA) family of germs.  The bacteria can actually live on the skin's surface or inside the nose of around thirty percent of the general population without causing any harm.  People carrying the bacteria on their skin are considered to be 'colonised', rather than 'infected' as the bacteria are merely on the surface of the body, not inside the body causing problems to tissues or blood.  There is no specific 'MRSA disease', but if the SA bacteria get under the surface of the skin via a cut or wound an infection like a boil or abscess can occur.  More seriously, if bacteria enter the blood stream through a wound it can cause blood poisoning (septicaemia), heart-valve infection (endocarditis), urinary tract infection or pneumonia.


If not adequately sterilised the hospital environment can present many opportunities for MRSA to enter a patient's body via wounds, surgical scars or through the use of equipment such as intravenous drips.  The bacteria can be spread from one wound to another and in over-crowded hospital wards with over-challenged staff the bug can unwittingly be transferred from patient to patient.  Elderly patients, those with weakened immune systems, in intensive care or undergoing cancer chemotherapy as well as new born or premature babies are most vulnerable to MRSA infections in hospital, but MRSA rarely causes problems for fit and healthy people.  

Although most Staphylococcus aureus (SA) infections can be successfully treated with the methicillin-type antibiotics there are certain strains of the bacteria which are resistant to methicillin (and other antibiotics) and these MRSA strains account for over 40 percent of SA infections in England.  'Methicillin' was developed from the antibiotic Penicillin to treat SA infections when bacteria causing the infections had evolved and penicillin was no longer strong enough to treat it.  Official figures show that about 15% of reported cases of contracted MRSA result in death.  However, MRSA is no more infectious than other SA infections but good hygiene is required to prevent it spreading.

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