Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus


MRSA infection.
Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) is defined as a type of bacterial staph infection that is non-responsive to antibiotics normally prescribed to treat such infections.[1]  MRSA was first described in 1961-1962 in a patient whose infection was resistant to the drug Methicillin, which was discovered in 1960.[2][3] The incidence of MRSA greatly increased in the United States in the 1980s and was especially emerging in patients who used intravenous drugs.[2]

The bacteria from which MRSA arises, staphylococcus aureus, is found in the skin and in the nostrils of one third of all people and do not show any symptoms of having been exposed to the bacteria. These carriers of the bacteria are then exposing the bacteria to all of the items that they touch as well as expelling it into the air where it will remain until the item is next cleaned.[4]

Most cases of MRSA occur in those who have recently been in a hospital, work in a healthcare setting, or have had a recent surgery. This is known as hospital-acquired MRSA (HA-MRSA).[1][2] Other cases of MRSA are known as community-assiciated MRSA (CA-MRSA) or non-HA-MRSA.[1][2] This occurs when the infection has no correlation with a hospital setting and affects otherwise healthy individuals. CA-MRSA is spread from skin to skin contact and poor hygiene practices. At risk populations for CA- MRSA include high school athletes, childcare workers, prisoners, and those who live in crowded conditions.[1][2] CA-MRSA has emerged globally and is “now endemic within the USA.” [2]


 According to the 2012 US Census Data[5]

  • Non-Dialysis Patients: 65,296
  • Dialysis Patients: 14,041
  • TOTAL 75,309 

Characteristics/Clinical Presentation

A MRSA infection can start as a swollen, painful red bump that resembles a pimple or a spider bite. Observing the area, the infection may be warm to the touch, full of drainage, and could be accompanied by a fever.[1] These infections can quickly spread into deep, painful abscesses that will require surgical draining. They also have the potential to spread infections to the bones, joints, surgical wounds, bloodstream, heart valves, and lungs, which could be life-threatening.[1] When evaluating these patients, be aware of the following symptoms, for they are indicative of a severe infection: [6]
• Chest pain
• Cough
• Shortness of breath
• Fatigue
• Fever and chills
• General ill feeling
• Headache
• Rash
• Wounds that do not heal

Environmental Risk Factors for Exposure to MRSA include:[3]
• Hospitalization overnight or long-term care facility
• Undergoing invasive procedures
• Work/Live in overcrowded/poor sanitary conditions

Personal Risk Factors for Acquisition of MRSA include: [3]
• Skin disorders
• Wounds
• Transcutaneous/indwelling medical devices
• Indwelling urinary catheter
• Diabetes Mellitus
• Immunodeficiency
• Intravenous drug abuse
• Practice of contact sports

Differences in Characteristics Between HA-MRSA and CA-MRSA[2]

Characteristic HA-MRSA CA-MRSA
Site of Infection Bacteraemia, wound infections, respiratory tract, urinary tract Mainly skin (abscesses, cellulitis, furunculosis
Risk Factors Indwelling devices, catheters, lines, hemodialysis, prolonged hospitalization, long-term antibiotic use Close physical contact, abrasion injuries, poor hygiene
Transmission Person-to-person (healthcare staff, visitors, patients), environment-to-person (hospital equipment Person-to-person (contact sports), environment-to-person (shared facilities, shared sports equipment)

Associated Co-morbidities

Characteristics of Patients at Time of Detection/Identification of MRSA[7][8]

  • Heart Disease
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes Mellitus
  • End-Stage Renal Disease
  • End-Stage Liver Disease
  • Immunocompromised, Non-cancer
  • Solid-Organ Cancer
  • Hematologic Malignancy


Typically, cases of HA-MRSA do not respond to methicillin or other antibiotic agents. However, majority of cases of CA-MRSA are susceptible to other antibiotics to rid of the bacteria.[2] Lab results will lead the doctor to prescribe a specific antibiotic for each specific case if needed.[6]  Teicoplanin and vancomycin are two of the most common antibiotics used in treatment.[9]  In some cases, though, antibiotics are not necessary. Simply draining the wound/abscess will be sufficient treatment to prevent the spread of MRSA.[1]

Diagnostic Tests/Lab Tests/Lab Values

Clinical Laboratories for MRSA, according to the Clinical and Laboratory Standards Institute (CLSI)[10]

Broth Microdultion Testing with the addition of one of the following:

  • A plate containing 6 μg/ml of oxacillin in Mueller-Hinton agar supplemented with 4% NaCl as alternative methods of testing for MRSA
  • Latex Agglutination Test for PBP2 - tests for the mecA gene (Staphylococcal resistance to oxacillin/methicillin happens when an altered penicillin-binding protein, PBP2a, is produced.)
  • Cefoxitin Disk Screen Test

Typically the broth test and agar test are the main tests for detecting MRSA, and the cefoxitin disk screen test can be used as a back-up test.

Interpretation of Susceptibility of Staphylococci to Oxacillin

Susceptible Resistant
Oxacillin MIC Test S. Aureus ≤ 2 μg/ml
CoNS ≤ 0.25 μg/ml
S. Aureus ≥ 4 μg/ml
CoNS ≥0.5 μg/ml
Cefoxitin MIC Test S. Aureus ≤ 4 μg/ml
S. Aureus ≥ 8 μg/ml
Cefoxitin Disk Diffusion Test S. Aureus ≥ 22 mm
CoNS ≥ 25 mm
S. Aureus ≤ 21 mm
CoNS ≤ 24 mm

• Detecting oxacillin/methicillin resistance can be difficult because of the presence of multiple populations (susceptible and resistant) may coexist within one culture of staphylococci.
• Oxacillin and cefoxitin are tested instead of methicillin because methicillin isn’t as readily available in the US as it once was. Oxacillin detects subpopulations well and cefoxitin activates mecA gene better, making it a more accurate test than other using oxacillin.
• Methicillin and oxacillin are in the same class of drugs. Methicillin has historically been the drug of choice for detecting resistance, hence the name MRSA. Even though the preferred drug of choice for testing has changed, the name had remained the same.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are additional tests to detect oxacillin/methicillin resistance but the most common and reliable tests have been listed above.


The bacteria Staphylococcus aureus lives on the skin of one third of the population who do not present with any symptoms.[4] However, they still have the ability to spread the bacteria through touch and through the air, contaminating their surroundings without the knowledge of doing so. Most staph infections are then spread by skin-to-skin or equipment-to-skin contact.[6] Healthcare workers' hands are at high risk for cross-infection in patients who develop or are exposed to HA-MRSA, making hand hygiene highly important in minimizing the risk of contracting the bacteria.[11]  Those who are at risk of acquiring HA-MRSA and CA-MRSA are listed above in the Characteristics/Clinical Presentation section.

Systemic Involvement

MRSA Infection may affect but are not limited to:[6]

  • Bloodstream
  • Lungs
  • Heart
  • Bones
  • Joints

Please refer to the ‘Characteristics/Clinical Presentation’ section for more information on the associated signs and symptoms.

Medical Management

A common practice to rid the body of MRSA infection is known as decolonization. The purpose of this treatment is to remove MRSA from the patients’ skin and nostrils with an intranasal ointment as well as an antimicrobial body wash.[4] The patient must use these for five consecutive days to decrease further transmission and infection. However, 21% of patients undergoing this treatment will fail due to non-adherence.[4] These patients are mainly under the care of a primary care physician in an outpatient clinic. Treatment is more likely to be successful in the hospital setting due to the nurses and cleaning staff managing the environment. If the treatment continues to fail after two attempts, the patient is deemed as “chronically colonized”. These patients will be treated only for risk assessment (i.e. during surgery) to prevent re-colonization.[4]These patients must change their lifestyles by regularly cleaning their home, bedding, towels, and clothes.

Some strands of MRSA (identified through blood work) have the ability to be treated through antibiotics. Teicoplanin, Vancomycin, and other antibiotics are often prescribed when the physician feels the infection will benefit from pharmacological intervention.[9]

Presently, the research is looking towards preventative strategies to decrease the incidence of MRSA in the healthcare settings. Nurses are the healthcare workers in most contact with the patients in the hospitals and therefore, can be cross-contaminating patients with MRSA bacteria if there hand hygiene is deficient. In some areas, hand-washing rate in nurses has found to be as low as 13-20% from patient to patient.[11] Chun et al. demonstrates that proper hand hygiene during nursing care can directly reduce the number of infections in the hospital setting. For example, a hospital’s MRSA acquisition rate decreased from 13.3 per 1,000 patients to 2.0 per 1,000 patients simply by changing their hand-washing criteria for the nursing staff.[11] Hand hygiene is the easiest, cost-effective way to decrease the infection rate of our patients in the healthcare settings.

Physical Therapy Management

MRSA is not primarily managed by physical therapy. Instead it is the physical therapist’s role to identify comorbidities that are inhibiting functional activity and treat the patient’s symptoms. When treating a patient with MRSA, it’s important for the physical therapist to know proper disinfecting techniques to prevent the spread of the disease. Precautions to be taken when treating a patient with MRSA include but are not limited to:[12][13][6]

  • Buy disinfectants that are registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Note how to properly apply each product, how long it needs to be left on the surface, if the surface needs to be rinsed prior, if it’s only for specific surfaces, etc.
  • Laundering specific clothes, towels and linens separately would be appropriate but not always necessary – wash and dry in the warmest temperate recommended on each piece of linen individually
  • All surfaces ad equipment that came in contact with the patient should be cleaned, sometimes individual equipment for the patient with MRSA may be necessary if equipment cannot be properly cleaned
  • Use barriers between the patient’s skin and surface when possible
  • Physical therapist should wash body parts immediately after making contact with patient’s skin
  • Patient should keep all open wounds clean and covered at all times until healed

There has also been evidence to support the use of low-frequency ultrasound on bacteria, including MRSA. According to an article posted in 2010, low-frequency ultrasound delivered at 35 kHz reduced colony forming units of bacteria and alters colonial characteristics of MRSA.[14]

Management of MRSA.jpg

Differential Diagnosis

The differential diagnosis for MRSA includes the following infections:[15]
• Bacteremia
• Chemical burns
• Impetigo
• Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis
• Streptococcal Infections
• Kawasaki Disease
• Leptospirosis
• Parvovirus B19 Infection

Further screening should be done to rule out such diseases.

Case Reports/ Case Studies

Hörner A, Hörner R, Salla A, Nunes M, Garzon L, Rampelotto R et al. Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome in a premature newborn caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus: case report. Sao Paulo Med J. 2015;133(5):450-453.

Braich P, Aggarwal S, Mukhtar, BA S, Almeida D. Nonsocomial Keratitis Caused by Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus : Case Report and Preventative Measures. Journal of Community Hospital Internal Medicine Perspectives. 2015;5(5).


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