MRSA: Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Treatments
Commonly asked questions about MRSA:
- What is MRSA?
- What causes MRSA?
- What risk factors are associated with MRSA?
- What are the symptoms of MRSA?
- How is MRSA treated?
- How can MRSA be prevented?
What is MRSA?
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is a type of staph bacteria. While ordinary staph bacteria, according to the Mayo Clinic, can be found on about one-third of the population and are generally harmless, an infection can occur if the bacteria enter the body through cuts or other wounds. Such infections can be treated with antibiotics. MRSA, however, is an especially difficult infection to treat, as it has become resistant to many of the antibiotics used to treat typical staph infections.
There are two types of MRSA: community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) and healthcare-associated MRSA (HA-MRSA). CA-MRSA is the less common of the two, but it is often found in people living in crowded conditions, people who play high-contact sports, and people who work with children, as it is spread by skin-to-skin contact. More common is HA-MRSA, which occurs in people who have been in healthcare settings such as hospitals and nursing homes. Typically, MRSA infections are associated with invasive procedures or medical devices.
What causes MRSA?
MRSA can be spread by contact with the bacteria itself, people who are infected with MRSA, or people who simply carry the bacteria on their skin. In a healthcare setting, the infection can spread through contact with healthcare workers or even visitors, as well as contaminated furniture, linens, or medical devices. Less than 2 percent of the population carries MRSA, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The severity of MRSA infections is a result of the use of antibiotics on viral infections that do not respond to the drug, such as colds and flus. Because antibiotics do not kill every bacterium exposed to them, the bacteria can evolve to resist the effects of the drugs. MRSA is one such bacteria that is now resistant to the antibiotics used to treat most staph infections.
Association between MRSA and Bair Hugger Warming Blankets
Invasive surgical procedures or open wounds in patients can also lead to MRSA infections. Abrasions or surgical sites create an entryway for the bacteria into the body if contact is made. Thus, any medical device used during such procedures that is contaminated can result in a serious infection.
One such device is the Bair Hugger warming blanket. This device works to prevent hypothermia in patients during surgery by forcing warm air through the blanket. It is believed that the air being forced through the blanket could contain contaminants from the operating room, which then directly contact open surgical sites and can cause serious infections, including MRSA infections. This complication occurs most often during surgical procedures to receive implants, such as knee or hip implants. These serious infections can advance to require additional surgeries and even limb amputations.
What Risk Factors are Associated with MRSA?
Those most at risk to contract healthcare-associated MRSA are those in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Those who are hospitalized are generally at their most vulnerable with weakened immune systems, and they are also exposed to more avenues by which MRSA can spread. Any contact with patients being treated for MRSA – through direct contact with the patient or indirect contact with mutual healthcare professionals – increases the risk of contracting an infection. An invasive surgical procedure or medical device can also increase this risk of infection in a hospital setting, as it can provide a pathway for the bacteria to enter the body.
The risk of contracting MRSA is also prevalent in long-term healthcare facilities, such as nursing homes, for similar reasons to hospitalization. Increased contact between people with weakened immune systems creates this risk, as people can carry and spread MRSA without showing symptoms themselves.
What are the Symptoms of MRSA?
MRSA infections, like most staph infections, generally first appear as swollen, painful red bumps that may initially resemble a pimple or spider bite. The infected area could also be warm and full of pus or other liquid, and the patient could experience a fever. If the infection begins to spread or the symptoms show no improvement after several days, even with the use of antibiotics, it could be an MRSA infection.
MRSA infections are not limited exclusively to the skin. MRSA can also infect surgical wounds, and if the bacteria are able to spread deep into the body, it could infect the bones, joints, bloodstream, lungs, and more, creating a potentially life-threatening infection.
How are MRSA Infections Treated?
In some cases, MRSA infections can be treated by draining the abscess or infected area through incision or surgery. Although MRSA is resistant to first-line antibiotics, if necessary, there are some antibiotics that can still fight MRSA. The method of treatment required by the infection would be determined by a doctor, nurse, or other healthcare professional.
In the case of an MRSA infection contracted during a surgical implant procedure due to a medical device – such as the Bair hugger warming blanket – treatment can include:
- Additional surgeries
- Revision or removal of the implant
- Insertion of antibiotic spacers into the affected area
How can MRSA Infections be Prevented?
Healthcare facilities generally have policies in place to prevent the spread of MRSA bacteria. For example, all healthcare workers are required to wash and sanitize their hands before and after interactions with every patient. All medical equipment, hospital rooms, and linens are regularly cleaned and sanitized.
Patients who are being treated for an MRSA infection are often placed under contact precautions. Healthcare providers as well as visitors to these patients are required to wear a gown and gloves, which they must remove when leaving the room before washing their hands. Patients with MRSA are typically placed in a single hospital room or will share a room only with another MRSA patient. Many hospitals ask these patients to refrain from entering common areas of the facility.
It is essential to recognize and treat MRSA infections quickly. An MRSA infection can be diagnosed by testing a sample of tissue or nasal secretion for the drug-resistant bacteria. Because of its resistance to the antibiotics typically used to fight staph infections, MRSA is especially difficult to treat and can therefore spread quickly throughout the body. If it is allowed to spread, MRSA can have life-threatening effects.