What is MRSA?

MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. You may also hear MRSA referred to as staph. MRSA is a bacterium (germ) found on the skin and in the nose. MRSA is resistant to some antibiotics. This means certain antibiotics do not work well in fighting MRSA.

How common in MRSA?

MRSA is found in 3-4 out of every 100 healthy people where it does not harm them. When people have MRSA on their skin or in their nose but it does not cause an infection, it is called colonization. Sometimes, MRSA can cause an infection. These infections can be minor, like a pimple or boil. They can also be more serious.

What is the difference between colonization and infection?

When a person is a carrier or is colonized with MRSA, they do not have symptoms, but MRSA bacteria are living in their nose or on their skin. When a person has an infection with MRSA, they have symptoms, such as a boil, sore or infected cut that is red, swollen or filled with pus.

How does MRSA spread?

MRSA spreads through touch. It can also spread by contact with personal items like towels, clothes or medical equipment. It is important to make sure that everyone who comes into contact with your baby cleans their hands with hand sanitizer. It is also important that any shared equipment is sanitized before touching your baby, such as bathtubs, blood glucose (blood sugar) monitors or a transport isolette.

If you are not sure if someone has cleaned their hands or equipment before touching your baby, it is okay to ask. You and your baby’s care team will appreciate this!

How often should I clean my hands?

Whether MRSA is a concern or not, it’s important to clean your hands throughout all hospital visits. It is also a good idea to clean your hands with hand sanitizer or soap and water when entering and exiting your baby’s room. If you have more than one baby in the NICU, clean your hands between taking care of each baby.

Learn how to wash your hands well and why it's important.

How often does the care team screen for MRSA?

The care team screens (checks) all babies admitted to the NICU for MRSA when they are admitted and then once a week. The care team may also screen families of babies admitted to the NICU.

Why does my baby’s care team screen for MRSA?

In the NICU, your baby may have tubes for treatments, fluids or monitoring. The care team watches your baby closely to make sure the tubes are clean and that your baby does not develop a MRSA infection. If your baby does develop a MRSA infection, the care team will start treatment right away.

How do doctors check for MRSA?

For babies, your baby’s care team will take swabs (like a cotton swab) from your baby’s nose, armpits and groin. The cotton swabs are checked under a microscope. You should get the results back in 1-2 days. For adults, only your nose is swabbed.

What happens if I or my baby have MRSA?

  1. Before entering the room, the care teams will clean their hands and put on gowns and gloves. This helps lower the chance of spreading MRSA to other babies. They will also place a Contact Isolation sign will be put on the door to the room. Contact Isolation signs let people know that the patient in that room has an infection or is colonized with a germ that can be spread to others.
  2. Before entering your baby’s room to hold or interact with your baby, sanitize your hands and put on a clean gown or johnny (hospital gown). Before skin-to-skin contact with your baby, please clean your skin with antibacterial soap before skin-to-skin. (Dial® is a commonly used soap.)
  3. After your visit, remove the gown or johnny before exiting the room. Then, use the hand sanitizer at the doorway.

If you have more than one baby in the NICU, try to visit your baby who does not have a MRSA colonization before visiting your baby who does have a MRSA colonization. This helps prevent the spread of MRSA between your babies.

What are MGfC and Mass General doing to prevent the spread of MRSA?

MGfC and Mass General are taking many steps to prevent the spread of MRSA:

  • Staff clean their hands with hand sanitizer or soap and water before and after they care for a baby.
  • Staff wear gowns and gloves when caring for babies who have MRSA.
  • Hospital rooms and medical equipment are regularly disinfected.

Is there treatment for MRSA colonization?

Yes. Treatment includes antibiotic ointment (gel or cream) that you rub inside the nose as well as special baths. However, doctors do not recommend this treatment regularly. For most people, the MRSA colonization will clear up on its own.

If my baby is found to have MRSA, will they have to stay in the hospital longer?

No. There is no need to delay going home from the hospital because of MRSA colonization. The doctors and nurses in the NICU can also talk to you about any concerns you may have about MRSA.

If I or my baby have MRSA, how long does colonization last?

Different people may have MRSA colonization for different lengths of time. About half of people who have a MRSA colonization will get rid of MRSA within a few months without any treatment. For others, it may last longer. Ninety (90) days after the most recent MRSA test, you or your baby can have another MRSA screening to see if the MRSA is no longer in your or your baby’s nose. This test can be arranged through your primary care doctor or pediatrician.

What about playdates and interactions with family and friends?

In general, there is no need to limit contact between your baby and others. MRSA is common in the community. Continue to have friends and family cleans their hands before and after visiting your baby.

Where can I learn more about MRSA?

Rev. 5/2022. MassGeneral for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treat any medical conditions.