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MRSA: Experts Answer Your Questions

How to Identify MRSA Infections and Reduce Your Risk

How can I protect myself from MRSA?

Close skin-to-skin contact, cuts and abrasions in the skin, contact with contaminated objects, and living in crowded conditions have all been associated with the spread of MRSA, according to the CDC.

Some of the best ways to keep from getting or spreading the infection include:

  • Frequent and thorough hand washing. Experts recommend washing your hands for as long as it takes to slowly recite the alphabet.
  • Covering cuts and scrapes with a clean bandage.
  • Do not touch other people's wounds or bandages.
  • Do not share personal items like towels or razors, and wipe down surfaces you come into contact with at the gym or in a locker room.

I will be entering the hospital soon for a surgical procedure. What can I do to minimize the risk that I will be infected with MRSA or another hospital-acquired infection?

One of the most important steps a patient can take is to make sure doctors, nurses, support staff, and visitors wash their hands or use a hand sanitizer prior to touching them, Coffin says.

"Patients shouldn't be afraid to speak up and be active participants in their health care," she says.

Patients or patient advocates should also ask health care providers what is being done in the hospital to prevent MRSA and other types of hospital-acquired infections, she says.

Late last year, the CDC issued guidelines designed to reduce the spread of multidrug-resistant bugs in the nation's hospitals and other health care settings.

"The bottom line is we think a comprehensive approach is needed, and every [health care facility] should have a program in place," Coffin says. "The goal for everyone should be to get these infection rates down. If the interventions aren't doing this, they need to do more."

How common is invasive MRSA?

It has been hard to get a handle on the magnitude of MRSA infections in the nation's health care settings, but two recent reports have shed some light on the issue.

One study estimated that for every 1,000 patients treated in U.S. hospitals, 46 cases of MRSA occur. The figure was 11 times higher than previous estimates.

In a CDC report, published earlier this month, researchers estimated that just over 94,000 cases of life-threatening MRSA infection occurred in 2005, with nearly 19,000 of these cases leading to death.

Does having HIV infection affect MRSA risk?

According to the CDC, people with weakened immune systems, including HIV infection, may have more severe illness if they become infected with MRSA. People with a weakened immune system should follow the same preventive measures to prevent being infected, including washing their hands frequently, covering wounds with bandages, and refraining from sharing personal hygiene items.

To learn more about MRSA infection and its causes, read more on Understanding MRSA.


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