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Protect Yourself from MRSA

In healthcare settings, MRSA infections occur most frequently among patients who undergo invasive medical procedures (such as surgery), have invasive devices (like catheters or ventilators), and who have weakened immune systems. MRSA in healthcare settings commonly causes serious and potentially life threatening infections, such as bloodstream infections, surgical site infections, or pneumonia.

How MRSA Spreads in Healthcare Settings

Photo: Healthcare professionals performing an operation.MRSA is mainly spread to other patients through human hands, especially healthcare personnel hands. Hands may become contaminated with MRSA bacteria following contact with MRSA-infected or colonized patients. If appropriate hand hygiene, such as washing with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand rub, is not performed, the bacteria can be spread when the healthcare provider touches other patients.

How can I help protect myself or loved one in a healthcare facility?

  • Since you are part of your healthcare team, do not be afraid to ask doctors or nurses to clean their hands before treating you. This includes washing their hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Intravenous catheters or drainage tubes may serve as entry points for infection. Ask your doctor how long you will have this device and when it can be removed safely.
  • Always ask visitors to clean their hands. If possible, ask your friends and relatives not to visit if they feel ill.
  • When you go home, if you have wounds or a device such as a catheter or dialysis port make sure you know how to take care of it.
  • After leaving a healthcare facility or after having a medical procedure done, pay attention to symptoms that may indicate an infection. These may include: unexpected pain, chills, fever, drainage, or increased inflammation (redness) around a surgical wound. Contact your doctor immediately if any of these occur.

What to do if you have an MRSA infection

Photo: A healthcare professional washing hands.To prevent another MRSA infection and to prevent spreading MRSA to others once you leave a healthcare facility, do the following:

  • Clean your hands often, especially before and after changing your wound dressing or bandage.
  • Tell people who live with you to clean their hands often as well.
  • Keep any wounds clean and change bandages as instructed until healed.
  • Keep taking any antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. Don't take half-doses or stop before you complete your prescribed course.
  • Avoid sharing personal items such as towels or razors.
  • Wash and dry your clothes and bed linens in the warmest temperatures recommended on the labels.
  • Tell your healthcare providers that you have MRSA. This includes home health nurses and aides, therapists, and personnel in doctors' offices.
  • Ask your doctor for any additional instructions.

What are some of the things that hospitals are doing to prevent MRSA infections?

To prevent MRSA infections, doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers:

  • Clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub before and after caring for every patient.
  • Carefully clean hospital rooms and medical equipment.
  • Use Contact Precautions when caring for patients with MRSA. Contact Precautions include:
    • Whenever possible, patients with MRSA will have a single room or will share a room with only someone else who also has MRSA.
    • Healthcare providers will put on gloves and wear a gown over their clothing while taking care of patients with MRSA.
    • Visitors may also be asked to wear a gown and gloves.
    • When leaving the room, hospital providers and visitors remove their gown and gloves and clean their hands.
    • Patients on Contact Precautions are asked to stay in their hospital rooms as much as possible.
  • May test some patients to see if they carry MRSA and should be cared for using Contact Precautions. This test involves rubbing a cotton-tipped swab in the patient's nostrils.

Fewer MRSA infections in healthcare

In 2010, encouraging results from a CDC study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that invasive (life-threatening) MRSA infections in healthcare settings are declining. Invasive MRSA infections that began in hospitals declined 28% from 2005 through 2008. Decreases in infection rates were even bigger for patients with bloodstream infections. In addition, the study showed a 17% drop in invasive MRSA infections that were diagnosed before hospital admissions (community onset) in people with recent exposures to healthcare settings.
This study complements data from CDC's healthcare-associated infection tracking system, National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN), which found rates of MRSA bloodstream infections occurring in hospitalized patients fell nearly 50% from 1997 to 2007.

Taken together and with other reports such as the March 2011 CDC Vital Signs article, these studies provide evidence that rates of invasive MRSA infections in the United States are falling. While MRSA remains an important public health problem and more remains to be done to further decrease risks of developing these infections, this decrease in healthcare-associated MRSA infections is encouraging.

More Information

Resources for patients:

Resources for healthcare providers:

Recent research on MRSA prevention

  • Page last reviewed: April 25, 2011 (archived document)
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs