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What Is a MRSA Carrier?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2014
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A methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus or MRSA carrier can be defined in two ways. It is someone who has an active MRSA infection or is carrying the illness, and is thus infectious to other people. The more commonly used definition is that a MRSA carrier is someone who carries or has been colonized by the bacteria, usually in the nasal passages. Such people or animals like dogs may or may not show signs of active illness, but they can pass the bacteria to others.

Humans all have a certain amount of bacteria on and in their bodies, and sometimes these germs opportunistically see a body as an ideal home in which to live and breed. Many people carry staph germs in their nasal passages, and a few people, perhaps 1-4% of the population, carry staph germs that are methicillin resistant. It is challenging when people are “colonized,” but not sick, because they don’t know they’re a risk to others, and that risk varies with the status of other people and the carrier’s hygiene level. A MRSA carrier who comes in contact with a person who has an open wound or who is medically vulnerable, poses a strong risk, especially if that carrier isn’t too good about regular handwashing.

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Generally, people get identified as a MRSA carrier if they experience several MRSA infections or if those living close around them, as in family settings, have repeated outbreaks. The main test for this is a nasal swab, though skin infections could be cultured, too. If a test comes back positive, there are several options.

A person who is a MRSA carrier may opt not to get treatment, but they’ll need to modify behavior to protect others. Careful handwashing is vital, and since the bacteria can readily spread around the skin, showers with special soap could be advised. People will also need to avoid anyone in a medically vulnerable state.

The alternative is decolonization, where MRSA is attacked with several medications. Special drops are used in the nose, specific soaps are employed during showering, and patients may also be placed on a course of oral antibiotics that are effective against the bacteria. Decolonization is challenging in a home where there may be several active carriers, and all may need treatment to rid the body of these bacteria and to avoid reinfection.

Many wonder how they can avoid becoming a MRSA carrier. It can be very difficult to avoid because this bacteria is prevalent. The best bet is to practice good handwashing and to avoid exposure to things like open sores or wounds. It’s predicted, though, that greater incidence of community-MRSA will likely lead to more carriers. In light of expected increases, good hygiene is emphasized.

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