What is MRSA?
Staphylococcus aureus (S.aureus or Staph) is a harmful bacterium which is mostly present on the skin of an individual. In a normal scenario, the bacterium does not cause any harm or present symptoms.
However, when the skin gets damaged or injured (a scratch or cut), this bacterium can start to create problems if it enters the body. The symptoms of the problem can range from a simple pimple on the skin to more serious effects, particularly in children, older adults, and people with a weak immune system, such as those with HIV or diabetes.
Methicillin used to be effective in treating staph. But over a period of time, the staph bacterium has developed strong resistance against this antibiotic. These resistant bacteria are knwon as Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
How does MRSA spread?
An individual can be colonized with the MRSA bacteria on the skin and in the nasal lining but have no signs of its presence or any other health problems.
The MRSA bacteria can be transferred in the following ways:
- Touching the skin of another person who has the MRSA bacteria
- Touching any contaminated surface like a phone, door handle, etc.
An infection from MRSA is possible when the person is colonized with the bacteria and they get a chance to enter the body through some injury on the skin.
What are the risk factors of MRSA?
Anyone can get the MRSA infection since it can be easily transferred from one person to the other. But there are certain people who are more at risk of developing this infection. The MRSA infection can be categorized as hospital-associated MRSA and community-associated MRSA.
Hospital-associated MRSA (HA-MRSA): Here, MRSA spreads in a healthcare setting.
Individuals who are at the risk of developing hospital-associated MRSA include:
- Those who have a surgical wound or an intravenous (IV) line in their skin
- Those who stay in the hospital for a longer period of time for treatment
- Those who have to use antibiotics continuously for treating their ailments
- Those with a weak immune system
- Those who are staying with other patients or health care workers who have the MRSA bacteria
The MRSA infection can be transferred in a heath care setting from one patient to another and the healthcare workers can be a medium for transferring this infection. The hands and gloves used by the health care provider can get contaminated when they tough the patient’s skin or dress their wounds or through certain devices like the IV tube.
Therefore, healthcare workers should always wash their hands before and after touching a patient and replace the gloves before attending to another patient.
Community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA): Here, one can get infected with MRSA in an environment outside the hospital, particularly in the following situations:
- Skin damage like burns or cuts
- Use of razor or wax to remove body hair, especially in the armpits and groin
- Tattoos and body piercing
- Physical contact with a person who has a cut or other skin injury or is infected with MRSA
- Sharing items that might not be properly cleaned, such as towels, protective sports pads, etc.
CA-MRSA infection is more common in certain environments like day care centers, military camps, prisons etc. And it is prevalent among athletes who are into contact sports like basketball, football etc.
What are the symptoms of MRSA?
The symptoms will vary based on the location of the infection. Even though most of the people have the MRSA bacteria present in the nasal lining, there may not be any symptoms. The infection may look like a bump or sore on the skin that one can assume to be an insect bite. The location which is infected might become red, swollen, painful, hot to the touch, filled with pus or some other fluid, and at times be accompanied with fever.
Symptoms of severe MRSA infection include:
- Fever which is equal to or above 100.4 degrees
- Body aches and muscle pains
- Inflammation and tenderness in the infected area
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Injuries that don’t heal
How to diagnose MRSA
Individuals with any skin infection can undergo a culture test to diagnose MRSA. The reports of the tests are received in 48 to 72 hours.
However, individuals with certain lung, bone, or other internal problems have to do a blood test and imaging test for diagnosis.
How to treat MRSA?
If an individual is diagnosed with MRSA, he/she will be given an antibiotic by the doctor. After the results of the culture test, the type or dose of the antibiotic may be changed.
Treatment for patients at home
The home treatments for MRSA patients include an antibiotic course which is prescribed by the doctor. The course is normally for around 7–10 days. The dose should be taken as prescribed by the doctor. Follow the instructions as mentioned on the label of the medicine. The course of the antibiotic should be taken at the time as mentioned by the doctor and the course must be completed. If you feel that there is improvement and there is no need for further medication, finish the course of antibiotics anyway. If there is no cure after completing the course or if the symptoms worsen, then the patient may need treatment in the hospital.
Apart from the antibiotics, the doctor may drain out the infection by inserting a needle or making a small opening on the skin. This is done to reduce the pus in the infected area and help in quicker healing. Patients should not try to drain the pus from a boil or pimple on their own, as this can make the infection worse or spread to other spots.
Treatment for patients in the hospital
Patients who are being treated in the hospital for MRSA are given intravenous antibiotics until there is complete recovery from the infection.
Some patients will have to continue the antibiotic dose even after getting discharged, either in the form of oral medicine or IV. The duration of the course can depend on the condition of the patient and can go on for around 6 to 8 weeks.
If MRSA is not treated promptly it can be very severe and at times life-threatening.
How is hot tea or coffee beneficial in reducing the risk of MRSA?
A new study has shown that drinking hot tea or coffee provides antimicrobial properties and reduces the risk of carrying methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in the nasal passages. The results of the study published in Annals of Family Medicine says that people who drink hot beverages like coffee or tea are 50% less likely to have MRSA in the nasal passages, when compared to people who do not. The risk does not reduce with soft drinks and iced tea.
Eric Matheson, MD, an assistant professor of family medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, reports that the more tea or coffee an individual drinks, the lower the risk of MRSA. These bacteria are resistant to most antibiotics and can cause illnesses when they come in contact with an open wound. The risk of illness and infection increases in people who have a weak immune system. The most fatal infections are noted in people who have acquired MRSA from hospitals.
Although the study shows that drinking hot coffee or tea is associated with lower chances of having MRSA it does not show a cause and effect relationship. According to Matheson, the next study should focus on the effects of coffee or tea on people who have MRSA. Some of the compounds in the tea or coffee may have antimicrobial properties which may help to weaken or destabilize the bacteria, adds Matheson. When the beverage is iced the compound loses its property as they are more soluble in higher temperatures. “It is also possible that these antimicrobial compounds are inhaled through the vapors of hot coffee or tea," says Matheson.
For people who are working in the healthcare setting and do not have the habit of drinking tea or coffee, they should start, suggest researchers. According to Bruce Hirsch, MD, an infectious disease expert at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, this is a very interesting finding and should be explored further. He says that one cannot change habits or recommend a change with this one finding.
Philip Tierno, PhD, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at the New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City, is not very convinced with the effect of hot coffee and tea in reducing the number of MRSA. He agrees that tea and coffee have antimicrobial properties, but MRSA does not respond to antibiotics, which has massive microbial properties.