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Antibiotic-resistant MRSA is NOT confined to hospitals

Antibiotic-resistant MRSA is spreading outside hospitals having left its usual breeding grounds, new research reveals.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which kills up to one-fifth of infected individuals, is affecting people throughout Britain by going undetected in communities, a study found.

Although the infection is typically associated with hospitals, many sufferers are unaware they carry MRSA, which is symptomless unless it enters the bloodstream. This allows them to spread the life-threatening bacteria through skin-to-skin contact when out and about, the research adds.

Despite patients being routinely screened for the bacteria upon hospital admission, the test is fairly inaccurate, which further encourages the infection to spread.  

Dr Jonathan Pearce, head of infections and immunity at the Medical Research Council, who was not involved in the study, said: ‘This study sheds light on MRSA transmission within and between hospitals and the community, which could help strengthen infection prevention and control measures.’ 

Antibiotic-resistant MRSA is spreading outside hospitals into communities (stock)


Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a type of bacteria that is resistant to several widely-used antibiotics, which makes it particularly hard to treat. 

Catching the infection early could prevent it spreading and infecting others.

Approximately 30 per cent of people carry the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria even in their nose, armpits, groin or buttocks without realising it.

This can invade the body’s bloodstream and release poisonous toxins that kill up to one-fifth of infected patients.

MRSA is most commonly associated with hospitals. 

As well as being highly drug resistant, current screening methods are fairly inaccurate, which allows the infection to spread as a patient moves around both within and outside hospitals.

Even when the infection is successfully treated, it doubles the average length of a patient’s hospital stay, as well as increasing healthcare costs.

The WHO recently classified MRSA as high priority on its list for the Research and Development of new drugs.   

How the research was carried out 

Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridgeshire mapped MRSA transmission rates among 1,465 people in eastern England over one year.

They sequenced the DNA of at least one MRSA strain from the study’s participants based on samples that are routinely collected from infected individuals and sent to labs. 

The lab involved in the investigation serves three hospitals and 75 GP surgeries.

Some 173 MRSA outbreaks were detected, which occurred in hospitals, the community, GP surgeries and people’s homes. 

Cases were linked by assessing the participants’ hospital admissions, ward transfers and home addresses.

MRSA goes undetected in the community  

Results reveal the infection is transmitted in the community after going unrecognised by doctors.

This contradicts the assumption MRSA infections solely occur in hospitals with outbreaks being confined to single wards.

Specific individuals are thought to help spread the infection if they frequently visit different healthcare-related buildings. 

Earlier this year the World Health Organisation warned antibiotic-resistant superbugs pose an enormous threat to human health.

The researchers detected MRSA strains native to the UK, Taiwan and the US, which suggests their findings could apply to other regions around the world.

They aim to initiate a second study next year to investigate new MRSA cases and how it spreads to help improve treatments.

Study leader Professor Sharon Peacock said: ‘Our study has shown sequencing all MRSA samples as soon as they are isolated can rapidly pinpoint where MRSA transmission is occurring.

‘If implemented in clinical practice this would provide numerous opportunities to catch outbreaks early and target these to bring them to a close, for example by decolonising carriers and implementing barrier nursing.

‘We have the technology in place to do this and it could have a really positive impact on public health and patient outcomes.’

Dr Jonathan Pearce added: ‘Antibiotic resistance poses a global challenge to healthcare.

‘To tackle it we need to prevent infections, preserve existing antibiotics and promote the development of new therapies and interventions.

‘This study sheds light on MRSA transmission within and between hospitals and the community, which could help strengthen infection prevention and control measures.’

The findings were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.  


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