MRSA Primer for Patients

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MRSA (often pronounced “mers-ah” in the news) has been a big topic for many years as its prevalence grows. CDC estimates 75,000 infections of MRSA occurred in 2012 and we know it can be deadly if not treated appropriately.

But what IS it? As consumers, what should we know about this bacteria, how it infects us, and how to avoid it? These “nightmare superbugs” are frightening to patients and the community, but the details are often fuzzy for many. Let’s go over some of the basics.

What is MRSA?

Methicillin resistant Staph. aureus is a bacteria that cannot be killed with use of methicillin (a type of penicillin). Staph. aureus – the kind that can be killed with methicillin – are quite normal on our skin and can even help the healing process for minor cuts and scrapes. But since the late 80’s, certain strains became resistant to our antibiotics and began growing in places other than our skin, causing dangerous infections that are difficult to treat.

How did it change to be so deadly?

It was previously easily treated with methicillin, but overuse of the antibiotic helped it to become resistant. When a bacteria is exposed to antibiotics many times over, it can eventually evolve the ability to survive in the presence of that drug. Now we have very few antibiotics that successfully kill MRSA.

How do people get MRSA?

We all carry Staph on our skin, but it’s not obvious who has the resistant version. It can linger on surfaces like hospital bed-rails and bathrooms, then transfer to our hands. A patient that carries, but isn’t sick from MRSA, is termed “colonized.” When surgery or a scrape opens up our skin, we are susceptible to an infection like MRSA, especially if we are colonized. If we are immune compromised, we are at a higher risk. If doctors and nurses performing our surgery don’t maintain surgical sterility, MRSA can transfer from their own skin or from the surfaces in the OR to our surgical incision and lead to an infection. Complicating this fact; everyone’s skin cells are always sloughing off at microscopic levels, and MRSA can live on those. That means unseen particles can float around an OR room and land in our incision as well.

Is there something I can do before or after my surgery (or scrape) to help prevent infection?
Before a surgery, it’s your right as a patient to ask your surgeon about their facility’s rate of post-op infections or SSIs (surgical site infections). If it is high, you may want to explore another facility. This information is available through Medicare on www.medicare.gov/hospitalcompare/search.html.

After your surgery, follow doctor’s instructions on changing your bandages and keep your incision site clean. If you are prescribed antibiotics, take the entire dosage–don’t slack off after a few days.

As for scrapes and cuts you are treating on your own at home, using antiseptic to clean the injury and keeping it covered with an antibiotic like Neosporin can help avoid an MRSA infection. If the site of the injury feels inflamed after a few days or isn’t healing, see your doctor immediately.

How does Xenex help reduce MRSA?

Xenex is able to kill MRSA within minutes. In one study at a large hospital in North Carolina, use of the Xenex Full Spectrum™ Pulsed Xenon UV Germ-Zapping Robot brought the rate of MRSA infections in the ICU to zero, and cut them by 56% facility wide. By zapping MRSA lingering in patient rooms and ORs, Xenex’s UV light breaks the chain of transmission from hospital surfaces to our bodies.

Rachael Sparks leads the Account Management Team at Xenex Healthcare Services and was previously a transplant specialist working with hospitals throughout Texas.

Credit xenexadmin