MRSA and the Elderly – The Real Risks and How to Prevent It

MRSA is the abbreviation for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a Gram-positive coccal bacterium. Prior to the development of penicillin, MRSA was the cause of death for many people. Usually death was caused by pneumonia, an infection of the lungs that was called ‘the old person’s friend’, meaning that a frail, sick, elderly person would be taken quickly by this ailment.

MRSA and the elderly are unfortunately compatible, as elder patients often do not have a sufficiently strong immune response to fight off the infection. In hospital situations, health care providers are regularly swabbed to see if they are carrying it. So long as MRSA stays colonized, and the carrier is particular with hygiene, there is no problem. It is the transfer of MRSA to the skin, the urinary tract, and the lungs that is a real danger.

A small scratch on the skin is enough to trigger MRSA in the elderly. The elderly are notorious for not wanting to make a fuss, and will probably not mention it to their caregiver until the infection has got a good hold. Caregivers, whether professional or family, should keep a close eye out for such a situation.

MRSA and the Elderly – Symptoms to look for

If any combination of these typical MRSA symptoms is observed in an elderly patient or loved one, be sure to seek medical attention immediately:

  • A small break in the skin becomes warm, red, swollen and painful.
  • Fever
  • Pus coming from the wound
  • A wound appearing as an abscess
  • Headache
  • Rash
  • Malaise
  • Shortness of breath

MRSA and the Elderly – Prevention of Infection

Prevention is, as with all infections, best served by frequent and effective hand washing, and the use of an antibacterial gel on the hands. If an elderly person has a urinary catheter, they should wash their hands before using the toilet to evacuate their bowels, as it is easy for colonized MRSA on the skin to be transferred to the catheter, and thus to make its way into the bladder. Hand washing after is essential too. If possible, the elderly should take daily baths or showers, using a moisturizing lotion after to reduce the tendency to dry, friable skin.

Caregivers should wear latex gloves when dealing with any surface infections, and dressing the wound is essential to prevent further infection to others. If the dressing becomes soiled from pus in the wound, it should be replaced. If there is any likelihood of pus splashing the caregiver, they should take all precautions such as a gown or mask and goggles, to minimize the danger to themselves. All bed linen that is soiled should be replaced as often as necessary, and towels should be clean. The caregiver should wash his/her hands on a clean towel that should be replaced immediately upon the person leaving.

Obviously, anyone with a compromised immune system should keep away from the infected person, but family members who are healthy need not worry, so long as hand washing is carried out after visiting. And at Assisted Living Today we recommend taking a natural immunity booster like Del Immune for anyone struggling with weakened immune response.