The Relationship Between Cystic Fibrosis and MRSA

MRSA colonies on blood agar plate
R Parulan Jr./Moment/Getty Images

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is nothing new. It has been around since the 1960s, but it’s getting a lot of media attention these days because it is becoming more widespread. If you have cystic fibrosis, you should take certain steps to minimize your risk of contracting the infection. Read on to learn what people with cystic fibrosis need to know about MRSA.

What Is MRSA?

MRSA is a strain of the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria that is resistant to many common antibiotics. Originally, MRSA infections were spread among people in hospitals or other healthcare facilities. This is no longer the case. While the majority of MRSA infections do still occur in hospitalized patients, the bacteria has spread beyond hospital walls to infect people in the community.

In the community setting, MRSA usually causes skin infections. In healthcare facilities, MRSA tends to cause infections in:

  • Wounds
  • Urinary tract
  • Lungs
  • Blood

What Happens to People Who Are Infected With MRSA

Staphylococcus aureus, which is sometimes referred to merely as “staph," likes to live on our skin and in our noses—and often does so without making us sick. In fact, about 30% of us are colonized with some strain of staph bacteria; 1% of the time that strain is MRSA.

MRSA infections occur when, instead of just hitching a ride on our bodies, the MRSA bacteria invade our bodies and cause illness. Without treatment, MRSA infections can cause severe tissue damage and in some cases, even death. Fortunately, these scenarios are pretty rare because most MRSA infections are treatable. Even though MRSA is resistant to some antibiotics, it is not resistant to all of them.

Are People With Cystic Fibrosis at Risk?

People with cystic fibrosis (CF) are no more or less likely to get a community-acquired MRSA infection than anybody else, but they are at an increased risk for hospital-acquired MRSA infections because of factors like:

  • Frequent hospitalizations, which increase exposure to MRSA.
  • Thick mucus trapped in the airways, which increases the risk of MRSA lung infections
  • PICC lines and other types of long-term IV access, which increase the risk of MRSA wound or blood infections

How MRSA Spreads

MRSA is spread through direct or indirect contact. One of the things that makes MRSA so contagious is that it can live on the surfaces of inanimate objects for days or even weeks. You can become infected with MRSA simply by touching another person who has a MRSA infection, an object that has been contaminated with MRSA, or even a caregiver or other person who has touched someone or something that is contaminated with MRSA.

How to Reduce Your Risk

In the community, you can reduce the risk of MRSA infection by:

  • Practicing good hand washing
  • Keeping cuts and other wounds covered
  • Not sharing equipment, razors, towels, or other personal items—even among siblings or family members

In the hospital, your caregivers should be taking steps to prevent the spread of MRSA including:

  • Washing their hands between contact with patients
  • Changing PICC line dressings at least once a week using sterile technique
  • Avoiding the use of shared equipment whenever possible
  • Ensuring that reusable equipment is not used for the care of another patient until it has been appropriately cleaned and reprocessed and that single-use items are properly discarded
  • Placing people with MRSA infections in private rooms using contact precautions
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