Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of infection commonly referred to as a staph infection. However, unlike the more common form of the illness, this strain is resistant to most of the antibiotics typically used to treat a staph infection. While staph is a germ that is present on most people’s skin, when it enters the body, it can become a serious problem – especially for the elderly in nursing homes.
MRSA’s danger to seniors is due to the number of antibiotics that most have been exposed to in the past. As their bodies, along with the infection, have become resistant to antibiotics, it makes treatment more difficult, and it increases the potential for more serious complications.
MRSA is also seen much more frequently in nursing homes and other institutions due to the overall decreased immune function seen in the elderly. In many cases, the combination of the antibiotic resistance, weakened immune system and underlying health conditions make it not only very easy for the infection to spread, but also make the effects more devastating.
The most common form of MRSA is a skin infection, but it is also introduced into the body through the use of catheters, breathing tubes and other medical equipment. It can also enter through surgical wounds, or as the result of a urinary tract infection. In these two situations, MRSA becomes even more serious, as it can easily get into the bloodstream and cause pneumonia. The illness can also be passed on clothing, hands, fixtures and other items that frequently are exposed to the germs.
The most common symptom of a typical staph infection is an area of the skin that is red, painful and warm to the touch. However, a more serious MRSA infection often starts as areas of the skin that look like boils or pimples and can quickly become large abscesses. Other symptoms of MRSA infections include:
The symptoms can vary depending on the areas that are infected by the bacteria, especially if it has gotten into the bloodstream, urinary tract or surgical wounds.
A MRSA diagnosis depends on the type of infection that is caused by the bacteria. If it is on the skin, a biopsy may be performed so that a culture can be taken from the area. If there is drainage, that will be cultured as well. The sputum, blood, or urine may also be tested, especially if the patient is believed to be suffering from pneumonia or a urinary tract infection.
Treatment of MRSA also depends on the site of the infection. If it is localized to the skin in an abscess, it often only requires draining. However, for most elderly patients in nursing homes, the treatment process requires much more. Antibiotics that are known to fight the MRSA bacteria will be used, as well as IV medications. In more serious infections, oxygen therapy or dialysis may be needed as well.
Nursing home residents are often isolated while fighting a MRSA infection due to the high susceptibility of the other residents. In these cases, masks, gloves, and gowns may be required by visitors to help minimize the chances of the infection spreading to others. In some cases, it may take a six-week course of IV antibiotics to ensure that the infection is cleared completely.
While MRSA and its potential complications for elderly nursing home patients are severe, most healthy people are not at risk provided that they maintain good hygiene, which includes hand washing after coming in contact with the patient.