Health Break | Published July 16, 2007 | Written by Marlene Stetson, RN, CIC, director of infection prevention and control, Mount Nittany Medical Center

Hygiene, Wound Care Can Cut MRSA Risk

Staphylococcus aureus, referred to as staph, is a type of bacteria commonly carried on the skin or in the nose of healthy people. Approximately 25% to 30% of the population is colonized (when bacteria are present, but not causing an infection). The staph bacteria can cause simple skin infections, such as pimples or boils; but can also cause more serious infections, such as wound infections or pneumonia. Antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus is referred to as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA. Methicillin is one of a group of antibiotics that is no longer effective when treating infections caused by MRSA.

Community-acquired MRSA infections (CA-MRSA) are commonly associated with adults and children who have not been hospitalized within the past year or had a medical procedure. They usually involve infections of the skin or soft tissue, such as pimples, boils and abscesses, and occur in otherwise healthy people. Factors such as close skin-to-skin contact, openings in the skin such as cuts or abrasions, crowded living conditions and poor hygiene have been linked to the spread of CA-MRSA infections. However, children and adults have developed CA-MRSA infections without any known risk factors.

MRSA can be diagnosed by collecting a sample from the infected site for culture in the laboratory. If Staphylococcus aureus is found, the bacteria will be tested to see which antibiotics will be effective for treating the infection. Although methicillin won't be effective, other antibiotics will. Wound care alone may adequately treat some simple skin infections and antibiotics may not even be necessary. It's important to not over-treat infections, contributing to further development of microbial resistance.

To reduce your risk of developing infections, including MRSA:

  • When antibiotics are prescribed, take the medication as directed. Complete the entire course of treatment as directed by your physician.

  • Follow your physician's advice regarding infections that do not show signs of improvement after a couple of days or if your symptoms worsen.

  • Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

  • Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed. Dispose of soiled bandages promptly when removed and clean your hands.

  • Wash sheets, towels, and clothes that become soiled with water and laundry detergent and dry thoroughly.

  • Avoid contact with other's wounds, bandages or other items that may have had contact with the wound or drainage.

  • Avoid sharing personal items such as towels, washcloths, razors, or clothing.

  • Participation in contact sports has been identified as a risk factor for MRSA. Athletes should:

    • Encouraged to practice good hygiene, including showering and washing with soap after all practices and competitions. Wash towels and washcloths daily and do not share bar soap.

    • Clean equipment before and after each use. This recommendation also applies to all persons that use shared exercise equipment, such as that found in fitness facilities.

    • Be checked regularly for signs of skin infection.

  • If signs of infection are present, seek medical care.

  • If open or draining wounds cannot be adequately covered, participants should be excluded from contact sports until wounds are healed or can be covered adequately.

Marlene Stetson, RN, CIC, is the infection prevention and control coordinator at Mount Nittany Medical Center