How Common is MRSA in Hospitals?

Erin J. Hill

Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a drug-resistant form of staph bacteria that is spread primarily in public settings like hospitals or doctor’s offices. The prominence of MRSA in hospitals is hard to pinpoint. While medical settings are among the most common places to come in contact with this bacterium, MRSA accounts for only 11.5% of all staph bacteria. This is a relatively low number when compared to the 88.5% of all other strains.

MRSA is most frequently treated with an IV drip of vancomycin.
MRSA is most frequently treated with an IV drip of vancomycin.

Although a high percentage of those who come in contact with MRSA contract it from hospitals, it is still a relatively rare occurrence. Proper hygienic practices and sanitation usually provide protection for patients. That said, MRSA in hospitals spreading from furniture and medical equipment is not unheard of. In fact, patients are at higher risk of developing a MRSA-related infection while in a medical setting than almost anywhere else.

Most hospitals sanitize their beds between patients to reduce the chances of MRSA infection.
Most hospitals sanitize their beds between patients to reduce the chances of MRSA infection.

Most staph infections are not caused by MRSA, but by more benign types of staph bacteria. These can also be found in hospital settings, but many strains are found on the skin of most humans at all times. They are relatively harmless until a break in the skin occurs, at which time they may take up residence in the broken tissue and lead to an infection or abscess.

MRSA is a serious concern for elderly patients.
MRSA is a serious concern for elderly patients.

The spread of MRSA in hospitals has caused great concern for health care workers and the public as a whole, primarily because it is resistant to many treatments. If it infects vulnerable patients, such as young infants or the elderly, serious illness could result. There are some forms of antibiotics which may help kill MRSA bacteria, but these are becoming less effective over time. The best way to prevent contracting MRSA is to cover all open sores on the skin and to properly clean utensils, medical equipment, sheets, and tables.

Patients who spend an extended amount of time in the hospital following surgical procedures are at an increased risk of developing staph infections.
Patients who spend an extended amount of time in the hospital following surgical procedures are at an increased risk of developing staph infections.

Any recurrent or hard to treat boils or abscesses on the skin may need to be cultured for MRSA. Additionally, to prevent the spread of MRSA in hospitals and other medical settings, those who are being treated for abscesses or other staph-related conditions should be kept separated from other patients and sheets or other bedding should be used to keep any drainage from touching beds and other surfaces. Disposable sheets of paper are best, although multiple pieces may need to be used if drainage is present to prevent soaking through.

For most patients, MRSA is not life-threatening and does eventually heal when caught early. In some rare cases, infection may spread and lead to death of the surrounding flesh. Even more rarely, a limb or body part may need to be amputated to stop the spread of MRSA bacteria.

MRSA is of great concern for health care workers.
MRSA is of great concern for health care workers.

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