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MRSA is a type of bacteria that's resistant to several widely used antibiotics. This means infections with MRSA can be harder to treat than other bacterial infections.
The full name of MRSA is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. You might have heard it called a "superbug".
MRSA infections mainly affect people who are staying in hospital. They can be serious, but can usually be treated with antibiotics that work against MRSA.
MRSA lives harmlessly on the skin of around 1 in 30 people – usually in the nose, armpits, groin or buttocks. This is known as "colonisation" or "carrying" MRSA.
You can get MRSA on your skin by:
Getting MRSA on your skin won't make you ill, and it may go away in a few hours, days, weeks or months without you noticing. But it could cause an infection if it gets deeper into your body.
People staying in hospital are most at risk of this happening because:
Healthy people (including children and pregnant women) aren't usually at risk of MRSA infections.
Having MRSA on your skin doesn't cause any symptoms and doesn't make you ill. You won't usually know if you have it unless you have a screening test before going into hospital.
If MRSA gets deeper into your skin, it can cause:
If it gets further into your body, it can also cause:
Tell a member of staff if you get these symptoms while in hospital. Call your doctor if you get them outside of hospital.
If you need to go into hospital and it's likely you'll be staying overnight, you may have a simple screening test to check your skin for MRSA before you're admitted.
This is normally done at a pre-admission clinic or your doctor surgery. A nurse will run a cotton bud (swab) over your skin so it can be checked for MRSA.
Swabs may be taken from several places, such as your nose, throat, armpits, groin, and any damaged skin. This is painless and only takes a few seconds. The results will be available within a few days.
If you're not carrying MRSA, it's unlikely you'll be contacted about the result and you should follow the instructions from your hospital as normal.
If you're carrying MRSA, you'll be told by the hospital or your doctor. You may need treatment to remove the bacteria to reduce your risk of getting an infection or spreading the bacteria.
If screening finds MRSA on your skin, you may need treatment to remove it. This is known as decolonisation.
This usually involves:
Treatment is normally done at home, but may be started after going into hospital if you need to be admitted quickly.
If you get an MRSA infection, you'll usually be treated with antibiotics that work against MRSA.
These may be taken as tablets or given as injections. Treatment can last a few days to a few weeks.
During treatment, you may need to stay in your own room or in a ward with other people who have an MRSA infection to help stop it spreading.
You can normally still have visitors, but it's important they take precautions to prevent MRSA spreading.
If you're staying in hospital, there are some simple things you can do to reduce your risk of getting or spreading MRSA.
If you're visiting someone in hospital, clean your hands before and after entering the ward and before touching the person. Gel or wipes are often placed by patients' beds and at the entrance to wards.
It's also a good idea to put a dressing over any breaks in your skin, such as sores or cuts, to stop MRSA getting into your body.
Read more advice about visiting someone in hospital.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.