Dawn Benham RN, is an infection preventionist at East Morgan County Hospital in Brush, Colo.
Question: I’ve heard about MRSA in the news. What is it and what can I do to prevent infection?
Answer: MRSA - or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus - is a strain of staph bacteria that has become resistant to several types of antibiotics. MRSA can live on the skin surface, in the nose, and also in the lungs and urine, and can cause infections such as boils, wound infections, or pneumonia. MRSA may make people sick, especially in the debilitated or elderly and in people with weakened immune systems
MRSA bacteria are found mainly on the skin, in the nose, in wounds, or in blood or urine. They can also be found in other body sites also. It is most likely to cause infection when a person has a break in the skin or other openings where bacteria can get inside the body. Common skin conditions caused by MRSA include:
- Infected cuts
- Infected hair follicles
- Fluid filled blisters (impetigo)
- Skin sores that look like insect bites
How It Spreads
First, it is important to know that bacteria play an important role in normal, healthy living. From helping our bodies properly digest food to warding off infection, some degree of bacteria is an essential part of our everyday life. Staph is a common, ever-present type of bacteria that lives on the skin and in the nose, usually without causing harm. The bacteria are transmitted when you (your skin) comes in contact with another person’s contaminated hands or equipment. When an infection does occur, antibiotics are used to kill harmful bacteria. But using antibiotics in excess enables bacteria to develop resistance to particular drugs, increasing the likelihood that our bodies will harbor drug-resistant bacteria.
First, it is imperative to limit the use of antibiotics to only those circumstances where it is absolutely necessary. Colds, upper-respiratory infections and bronchitis are conditions that do not respond to antibiotics, so their use does nothing more than promote drug resistance and increase susceptibility to MRSA. Learn more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Second, is good hygiene, particularly vigorous hand washing with soap and warm water for 15 to 20 seconds. Alcohol hand sanitizers are also effective in destroying most bacteria and viruses while also being quick and convenient to use. Other good habits include frequent cleaning of surfaces and other commonly touched areas with a disinfectant such as doorknobs, light switches and telephones and covering your mouth when you cough. Avoid sharing towels, razors, toothbrushes and other personal items.