MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

Staphylococcus aureus is a common type of bacteria. It lives on the skin and in the nose of many people without any problems.

Like many bacteria, staphylococcus aureus only becomes a problem if you are ill, injured, or have had surgery. It can cause infections if it enters the body, such as through wounds or tubes placed in the body.

Methicillin is an antibiotic. Antibiotics are used to treat infections caused by bacteria. Methicillin-resistant means that methicillin cannot kill the bacteria, and another antibiotic will need to be used. If a staphylococcus aureus infection cannot be cured by methicillin, it is called MRSA.

Causes of MRSA infection

You might have got MRSA before you came into hospital, or during your stay.

MRSA is more common in hospitals than anywhere else. Patients in hospital are more likely to get infections because they might have a weakened immune system, or have wounds or burns, or tubes placed in their bodies.

Antibiotics have been used for many years to successfully treat infections. However, when people do not finish a course of antibiotics as prescribed, it is likely that not all of the germs have been killed. The germs that survive develop a resistance to the antibiotic, and then multiply.

As more antibiotics are used by everyone, the number of germs that can resist them have become more common.

How MRSA can affect you

MRSA can cause colonisation or infection.

MRSA colonisation

If you have MRSA on your skin or nose and it is doing no harm, this is called colonisation. People who are colonised have no signs or symptoms of infection, and feel fine.

MRSA infection

An infection means that germs are in or on your body and might make you feel sick. MRSA might cause a mild infection, such as pus or redness at a wound site. It might also cause a more serious infection, such as septicaemia (infection of the blood) which can be called 'sepsis'.

Testing for MRSA

You cannot tell who has MRSA by looking at them. This is why we routinely test our patients for it. This involves sending samples to our laboratory to be tested. These samples could include:

  • a swab of your nose, throat and perineum (the skin between your genitals and bottom)
  • a swab of an infected wound
  • blood or pee (urine)

It takes about 3 days to get the test results.

Treatments for MRSA

We will need to take swabs from you regularly to check the progress of your treatment. You might have to continue with the treatment for an extended time until the MRSA has cleared.

If you are colonised with MRSA you might be given an antiseptic wash and an ointment. These help to remove MRSA from the nose and skin, and reduce the risk of MRSA spreading to other parts of your body, or to other patients.

If you have an infection from MRSA, antibiotics (not methicillin) can be used. You will be given antibiotics by injection or orally (by mouth).

Controlling the spread of MRSA

You will be moved to a separate room, either on your own or with other patients who have MRSA. This is to prevent the spread of MRSA to other patients.

Staff will wash their hands or use hand sanitiser before and after they care for you. They will also wear gloves and gowns during your care, to prevent MRSA from being carried on their clothes to other patients.

It is important that you follow the advice given by your nurse.

MRSA is mainly passed on by human contact. Washing your hands is the best way to prevent the spread of MRSA. You can ask your nurse for our information about washing your hands properly.

When you are in hospital you can help by:

  • cleaning your hands before meals (if you are not near a sink, please use the hand sanitiser at your bedside)
  • washing your hands with soap and water after using the toilet or a commode (chair with toilet bowl)
  • encouraging your visitors to clean their hands before and after visiting you (hand sanitiser is available at the entrance to every ward)
  • asking the staff caring for you to clean their hands before examining you
  • reporting any unclean toilets or bathrooms to a member of staff
  • telling your nurse if your bed’s dirty

MRSA and visitors

You can have visitors, as long as they are not patients in the hospital. MRSA does not affect healthy people, but can be harmful to people who are sick. To prevent the spread of MRSA, please ask your visitors to follow the advice given by the nurses.

Your visitors should wash their hands or use the hand sanitiser before and after visiting you.

If they help with your care, they will be asked to wear gloves and aprons.

It is possible to pass MRSA on to people you are in close contact with, even when you are at home.

This is why we ask your visitors to follow the advice given by the nurses. MRSA is very unlikely to cause any harm to healthy people and it will probably not survive long on them.

Your visitors must check with the ward staff before visiting you if they:

  • are due to come into, or be admitted to, hospital for any procedure
  • have open wounds or other damaged skin, or tubes in their body, such as for feeding, medicine or to help them pee
  • are taking long-term antibiotics

They should also tell their doctor that they have been in contact with someone who has MRSA.

Staying in hospital for treatment

Most patients who are colonised with MRSA can leave hospital when their original reason for being in hospital has been dealt with.

You will only have to stay in hospital if MRSA causes an infection that needs hospital treatment.

If you need to continue treatment when you leave hospital, your nurse, or the infection control nurse, will tell you about any special precautions you need to take.

Getting MRSA again

Sometimes MRSA is not completely removed by treatment, and might come back.

To stop this from happening, you should have a high standard of personal hygiene. You should:

  • shower or bath, and wash your hair, regularly
  • avoid touching broken skin or wounds
  • avoid touching any tubes you have in your body

If you are admitted to any hospital in the future, you should tell the staff that you have had MRSA.

You will need to be tested to make sure the MRSA has gone before you have any procedures or operations.

Read about MRSA on the NHS website.

Resource number: 0017/VER6
Last reviewed: October 2023
Next review due: October 2026

Trusted Information Creator. Patient Information Forum

Contact us

For more information about MRSA, ask the ward staff, or call the infection control team.

Phone: 020 7188 3153, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.

This team is made up of trained nurses who advise other hospital staff how to control and prevent the spread of infection.

Do you have any comments or concerns about your care?

Contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

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