The Medical Minute: Combating MRSA

July 12, 2007

Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a "staph" bacteria that lives on the skin and is immune to the effects of most commonly used antibiotics, is commonly found in hospitals and nursing homes. Over the past decade, cases of MRSA acquired in the community have become increasingly common.

Community-acquired MRSA is often found among persons who live and work in close proximity, or who are in crowded places where germs are easily spread.

Risk factors include close skin-to-skin contact, cuts or abrasions in the skin, using contaminated items or touching contaminated surfaces, crowded living conditions and poor hygiene. Additionally, greater risk of contracting MRSA is posed to those who are recovering from surgery or burns, those who have tubes in their body, those who share needles or those who take antibiotics frequently or improperly.

MRSA is eight to 11 times more prevalent than previously believed and may be infecting 30,000 hospital patients in the United States, according to a survey conducted by infection control professionals in October and November of 2006. About 34 per 1,000 patients were infected, and an additional 12 per 1,000 were colonized by this bacterial strain that is immune to most commonly used antibiotics.

A study conducted at a large public hospital in Chicago found a seven-fold increase in cases of community-acquired MRSA from 2000 to 2005. During that same period, there was no increase in the rate of community-acquired staph infections that were not drug resistant. The researchers do not know why the incidence of MRSA has increased so dramatically. The hospital in which the study was conducted, however, serves a population that includes persons living in public housing and those who have recently spent time in jail.

To combat this national increase and to prevent further spread of the bacteria, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center has planned for the development of screening procedures and is using contact precautions, such as gloves and gowns, to reduce the risk of transmission when providing care for patients who are found to carry MRSA.

Since MRSA can live on surfaces and objects for months, infection control specialists recommend using practicing good hygiene to reduce the amount of bacteria on the skin. In fact, washing or sanitizing hands is the number one way to stop the spread of the bacteria.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 19, 2009