Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
Staphylococcus aureus (staph) is a type of bacteria that normally lives on the skin and in the nose of healthy people. Sometimes, staph can cause infections, such as boils, abscesses, impetigo, or cellulitis. Most staph infections are mild and can be treated with antibiotics. However, some staph bacteria have become resistant to certain antibiotics, making them harder to treat. One of the most common types of antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
MRSA was first discovered in the early 1960s, shortly after the introduction of methicillin, a type of penicillin that was effective against staph infections. However, some staph bacteria developed a gene (mecA) that made them resistant to methicillin and other beta-lactam antibiotics. MRSA can cause serious infections, such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections, bone and joint infections, or surgical site infections. MRSA can also produce toxins that can damage tissues and organs.
MRSA infections can occur in different settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, dialysis centers, or community settings. Depending on where they occur, MRSA infections can be classified into two types: community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) and hospital-associated MRSA (HA-MRSA). These types of MRSA differ in their genetic makeup, antibiotic resistance patterns, virulence factors, and clinical manifestations. In this article, we will discuss the characteristics and detection methods of these two types of MRSA.
MRSA is a type of staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria that is resistant to many antibiotics, especially the methicillin class. Staph bacteria are normally found on the skin and in the nose of healthy people, but they can cause infections if they enter the body through a wound or a medical device.
There are two main types of MRSA infections: community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) and health care-associated MRSA (HA-MRSA).
- CA-MRSA infections occur in people who have not been hospitalized or had a medical procedure in the past year. They are usually transmitted by close contact with an infected person or a contaminated object. CA-MRSA infections are mediated by the mecA gene subtype IV, V, VI. They are more virulent and express several toxins, such as Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL), that can cause severe skin and soft tissue infections, such as boils, abscesses, cellulitis, and necrotizing fasciitis.
- HA-MRSA infections occur in people who have been hospitalized or had a medical procedure in the past year. They are usually transmitted by contact with infected health care workers or medical equipment. HA-MRSA infections are mediated by the mecA gene subtype I, II, III. They are multidrug-resistant but have low virulence. They can cause perioperative wound infections, bloodstream infections, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections in hospitals and other health care settings.
The terms CA-MRSA and HA-MRSA are becoming artificial nowadays, as many CA-MRSA strains have been isolated in hospitals and vice versa. Therefore, it is important to identify the specific strain of MRSA and its antibiotic susceptibility to choose the appropriate treatment.
Community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) are strains of MRSA that are acquired in the community, rather than in a hospital or other health care setting. CA-MRSA infections usually occur in healthy people who have no risk factors for MRSA, such as recent surgery, hospitalization, or use of antibiotics.
CA-MRSA are mediated by the mecA gene subtype IV, V, VI. This gene encodes a modified penicillin-binding protein (PBP-2a) that has low affinity for beta-lactam antibiotics, such as methicillin and oxacillin. This makes CA-MRSA resistant to these drugs and many others.
CA-MRSA are usually more virulent and express several toxins that can cause tissue damage and inflammation. One of the most important toxins is Panton-Valentine leukocidin (PVL), which can destroy white blood cells and cause necrosis of the skin and soft tissue. Other toxins include alpha-hemolysin, which can damage red blood cells and endothelial cells; and phenol-soluble modulins (PSMs), which can enhance biofilm formation and immune evasion.
CA-MRSA cause invasive skin and soft tissue infections, such as boils, abscesses, cellulitis, impetigo, and necrotizing fasciitis. These infections can be painful, swollen, red, and pus-filled. They can also spread to other parts of the body, such as the blood, bones, joints, lungs, and heart. CA-MRSA infections can be life-threatening if not treated promptly and appropriately.
The treatment of CA-MRSA infections depends on the severity and location of the infection. Mild skin infections can be treated with drainage of pus and application of topical antibiotics. Moderate to severe infections may require oral or intravenous antibiotics that are effective against CA-MRSA, such as clindamycin, doxycycline, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, or vancomycin. Surgical debridement may be needed for necrotizing fasciitis. Prevention of CA-MRSA infections involves good hygiene practices, such as washing hands frequently, keeping wounds clean and covered, avoiding sharing personal items, and seeking medical attention for any suspicious skin lesions.
Hospital associated MRSA (HA-MRSA) is a type of MRSA that occurs in people who have been in contact with a healthcare setting, such as a hospital, clinic, or nursing home. HA-MRSA is usually the result of a nosocomial infection, which means an infection that is acquired during or after a medical treatment. HA-MRSA can cause serious and potentially life-threatening infections, such as surgical wound infections, pneumonia, sepsis, and endocarditis.
HA-MRSA is mediated by the mecA gene subtype I, II, III. This gene encodes a modified penicillin-binding protein (PBP-2a) that has low affinity for beta-lactam antibiotics, such as methicillin and oxacillin. Therefore, HA-MRSA is resistant to these antibiotics and many others. HA-MRSA is often multidrug-resistant, meaning that it is resistant to more than one class of antibiotics. However, HA-MRSA has low virulence, meaning that it does not produce many toxins or cause severe tissue damage.
HA-MRSA can be spread by direct contact with an infected wound or from contaminated hands, usually those of healthcare providers. People who carry HA-MRSA but do not have signs of infection can also spread the bacteria to others (this is called colonization). HA-MRSA can also be transmitted by contact with contaminated medical devices or equipment, such as catheters, ventilators, or surgical instruments.
HA-MRSA infections are more common in people who have certain risk factors, such as:
- Having a weakened immune system due to illness or medication
- Having a chronic medical condition, such as diabetes or kidney disease
- Having an open wound or a surgical site
- Having a medical device implanted or inserted into the body
- Having a history of antibiotic use or exposure
- Being elderly or very young
- Being hospitalized for a long time or frequently
HA-MRSA infections can be prevented by following infection control measures in healthcare settings, such as:
- Washing hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Wearing gloves, gowns, masks, and eye protection when handling patients or their body fluids
- Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and equipment that may be contaminated with MRSA
- Isolating patients who have MRSA infections or colonization from other patients
- Screening patients and staff for MRSA colonization and treating them if needed
- Using antibiotics appropriately and only when necessary
HA-MRSA infections can be treated with antibiotics that are still effective against this type of bacteria. Some examples are vancomycin, linezolid, daptomycin, and tigecycline. However, some HA-MRSA strains may also develop resistance to these antibiotics over time. Therefore, it is important to monitor the antibiotic susceptibility of HA-MRSA isolates and adjust the treatment accordingly. In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove infected tissue or medical devices.
HA-MRSA is a serious public health problem that requires coordinated efforts from healthcare providers, patients, and policymakers to prevent and control its spread. By following the recommended prevention strategies and seeking prompt medical attention for any signs of infection, HA-MRSA infections can be reduced and managed effectively.
Traditionally, MRSA infections have been classified into two types: community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) and hospital-associated MRSA (HA-MRSA). CA-MRSA infections occur in people who have no history of recent health care exposure, such as hospitalization, surgery, dialysis or indwelling devices. CA-MRSA strains are usually more virulent and produce toxins that cause severe skin and soft tissue infections. HA-MRSA infections occur in people who have been in contact with health care settings, such as patients, staff or visitors. HA-MRSA strains are usually less virulent but more resistant to multiple antibiotics and cause wound infections or bloodstream infections in hospitals.
However, these terminologies are becoming less useful as the epidemiology of MRSA is changing. CA-MRSA strains have been increasingly isolated from health care settings and vice versa. Moreover, some MRSA strains do not fit into either category and have been termed health care–associated community-onset MRSA (HACO-MRSA) or community-associated hospital-onset MRSA (CAHO-MRSA). Therefore, it is more important to identify the specific strain of MRSA by molecular typing methods, such as SCCmec typing or multilocus sequence typing (MLST), than to rely on the clinical classification of CA-MRSA or HA-MRSA.
MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, which means that these bacteria are resistant to all β-lactam antibiotics, such as penicillin, oxacillin and methicillin. The resistance is mediated by the mecA gene, which encodes a low-affinity penicillin-binding protein (PBP2a) that can bind and inactivate β-lactam antibiotics.
There are several methods available for detecting MRSA in clinical samples, such as blood, wound swabs or nasal swabs. These methods can be classified into two categories: phenotypic and genotypic.
Phenotypic methods are based on testing the susceptibility of S. aureus isolates to β-lactam antibiotics using different techniques, such as:
- Antimicrobial susceptibility test: This is a disk diffusion test that can be done by using cefoxitin or oxacillin disks on Mueller-Hinton agar plates. Cefoxitin is the recommended disk to be used, as it is more reliable and sensitive than oxacillin. If an oxacillin disk is used, then certain conditions have to be maintained, such as using media containing 2–4% NaCl, incubation at 30 °C for 24 hours. The zone of inhibition around the disk is measured and compared with the standard criteria to determine if the isolate is resistant or susceptible.
- Oxacillin screen agar: This is a modified Mueller-Hinton agar that contains 6 μg/ml of oxacillin and 4% NaCl. S. aureus isolates are inoculated on this agar and incubated at 35 °C for 24 hours. If the isolate grows on this agar, it is considered resistant to oxacillin and hence MRSA.
- Latex agglutination test: This is a rapid test that detects the presence of PBP2a in S. aureus isolates. A latex reagent coated with anti-PBP2a antibodies is mixed with a bacterial suspension on a slide. If the isolate produces PBP2a, the latex particles will agglutinate and form visible clumps. If the isolate does not produce PBP2a, the latex particles will remain dispersed.
Genotypic methods are based on detecting the mecA gene or its variants in S. aureus isolates using molecular techniques, such as:
- PCR: This is a polymerase chain reaction that amplifies a specific region of the mecA gene using primers and DNA polymerase. The amplified product can be detected by gel electrophoresis or hybridization probes. PCR is a sensitive and specific method for detecting MRSA, but it requires specialized equipment and trained personnel.
- Chromogenic agar: This is a selective and differential medium that contains substrates that change color when hydrolyzed by specific enzymes produced by MRSA. For example, chromID MRSA agar contains cefoxitin and mannitol salt agar with a chromogenic substrate that turns blue-green when hydrolyzed by β-glucosidase produced by MRSA. Chromogenic agar can provide presumptive identification of MRSA within 18–24 hours.
- MRSA infections can be treated with antibiotics that are effective against the resistant bacteria.
- The choice of antibiotic depends on the type and severity of the infection, the susceptibility of the bacteria, and the patient`s medical history and allergies.
- Some common antibiotics for MRSA include sulfamethoxazole with trimethoprim, clindamycin, vancomycin, daptomycin, linezolid, tedizolid, doxycycline, minocycline, omadacycline, and delafloxacin.
- For mild skin infections, antibiotics may not be necessary and the doctor may just drain the abscess.
- For severe or systemic infections, intravenous antibiotics may be required.
- It is important to follow the doctor`s instructions and complete the prescribed course of antibiotics to prevent recurrence or resistance.
- In addition to antibiotics, supportive care such as wound care, pain management, hydration, and fever control may be needed.
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