How we tackle MRSA

Meticillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of bacteria (germ) that has become resistant to most antibiotics. About 30% of the population carry Staphylococcus aureus (Staph aureus) in their noses, throats or on their skin. This is called colonisation, and is very different from being infected with MRSA. At King’s, we now screen all patients who come in for elective and emergency (planned) operations and procedures.

What is the difference between colonisation and infection?

  • Colonisation means that the MRSA is carried in the nose, on the skin and possibly in wounds but is causing no harm and producing no symptoms. Staph aureus and MRSA are not normally a risk to healthy people
  • Infection with MRSA means that the bacteria are causing the person to be ill. It can cause mild infection involving redness and inflammation at a wound site. It can also cause more serious infection, such as bloodstream infections. If a patient has an infection caused by MRSA, antibiotics, other than meticillin, can be used. This is given by injection or drip into a vein.

Find out more in our leaflet MRSA information for patients and visitors

What is the difference between MRSA and Staph aureus infections?

The main difference between MRSA and ‘normal’ Staph aureus is that different antibiotics, such as vancomycin, are used to treat MRSA, and these may not be as effective and can have more side effects. But there is no evidence that MRSA is more likely to cause an infection than normal Staph aureus.

If a patient has an infection following surgery this is usually caused by their own bacteria (that is, bacteria they were already carrying at the time of their operation) rather than those present in the hospital environment or on the hands of healthcare workers.

We have found that organisms resistant to one or more antibiotics are particularly associated with people treated as inpatients in hospitals.

This is usually the result of antibiotics (most of which are needed to treat or prevent other infections) and the transfer of resistant organisms from patient to patient, probably via hands, gloves and equipment, or occasionally direct from the environment. We have put a number of measures in place as part of King's MRSA Policy to reduce the spread of MRSA and other infections.

Who is most at risk?

The majority of MRSA occurs in patients with what are called ‘risk factors’. These include patients who have:

  • been admitted to hospital in the recent past
  • been in the hospital for a long time
  • been receiving antibiotics
  • broken skin, for example leg ulcers
  • long-term urinary catheters.

Why does King’s screen for MRSA?

There are many people in the community who have the MRSA germ without showing any symptoms. By screening we can find out if someone is carrying the bacterium and treat them before they are admitted to hospital.

The Department of Health has asked all NHS Trusts to review their existing MRSA screening arrangements to include all emergency admissions. As a result we now screen:

  • all emergency admissions as they are admitted to our wards
  • all elective (planned) admissions in pre-assessment clinics or outpatients.

What do the tests involve?

We take swabs from your throat, the inside of your nose and your groin. The tests do not hurt but you might feel a little uncomfortable. We send the swabs to the laboratory for testing. If you are found to be MRSA positive, we will give you appropriate treatment. We will give you more information when we test you.

Who can I contact with queries and concerns?

If you have any concerns or would like more information, please contact the ward manager of the ward or area you - or your relative or friend - are being treated in.

Alternatively, contact the Infection Control Team:
Tel 020 3299 4374