Screening for MRSA


Most patients going into hospital for a planned procedure, such as an operation, are screened for MRSA beforehand. This helps hospitals reduce the chance of patients getting an MRSA infection or passing MRSA on to another patient. This information is designed to help answer the questions that patients or carers, may have about screening for MRSA.

Many people carry MRSA on their skin or in their nose. If the hospital can find out if you are carrying MRSA before you go in, it can use a simple treatment to get rid of as much of the bacteria as possible. This means that there is a much smaller chance of you getting an MRSA infection or passing MRSA on to another patient.


How will I be screened for MRSA?

Healthcare providers can find out if you are carrying MRSA by taking a sample of bacteria using a swab. A swab is a cotton bud that is placed on the area of skin to be tested. Swabs may be taken from different places, like the inside of your nose, your armpit or your groin. Swabbing is painless and only takes a few seconds.

When and where will I be screened for MRSA?

Usually you will be screened before you come into hospital for an operation. This may be in a pre-admission assessment clinic, an outpatient clinic, or sometimes at your GP surgery.

Typically, a nurse will take the swabs as part of the other checks, such as blood pressure and a blood test, leading up to your hospital stay.

If you are admitted in an emergency to an NHS hospital you will be screened for MRSA

When will I get the results from the swabs?

Your swabs will be sent to a laboratory, which tests them for MRSA. The results usually take between three and five days, but may come back the same day.

What happens after I have been screened?

If you are found to be carrying MRSA on your skin or in your nose, you will be contacted by the hospital or your GP. Do not worry if you are contacted, as lots of people carry MRSA. Carrying MRSA does not make you ill and you are not a risk to healthy people. This includes older people, pregnant women, children and babies. A doctor or nurse will let you know what you need to do next.

If you are not carrying MRSA, you are unlikely to be contacted by the hospital or your GP. If you are not contacted, continue with your hospital care as planned.

What happens if I am a carrier of MRSA?

If you are carrying MRSA on your skin, you may not be able to have your planned operation or procedure straight away. You may need to be treated for MRSA first to protect you and other patients from getting ill.

What treatment is used to get rid of MRSA from my skin?

Your doctor or nurse will discuss treatment with you. It usually involves using an antibacterial wash or powder and a special cream in your nose.

You may be asked to change your clothes, sheets and pillowcases every day, usually for five days prior to surgery.

You do not need to be in hospital while you are using the treatment. Continue until the day of your operation or procedure or until the five days are complete. You do not usually need to be screened again before you come into hospital, although some hospitals require re-screening until swabs are clear.

Most hospitals will have their own information leaflets that they give to a person requiring treatment for MRSA colonisation. They will also be able to give advice on what to do if you are unable to perform the treatment without assistance or if you are a carer of a patient requiring treatment. So it is important to mention this if you think you need help with the treatment.

What if my operation is urgent?

If your operation is urgent and you need to go into hospital quickly, you may be admitted to a side room in the hospital and started on the MRSA treatment as soon as possible.

Who doesn't need to be screened for MRSA?

Some patients may not be routinely screened. Based on available evidence, not screening these groups is considered safe and acceptable they are:

  1. day case ophthalmology patients undergoing treatment for eye conditions
  2. day case dental patients
  3. day case endoscopy patients undergoing diagnostic examination
  4. minor dermatology procedures, for examples, warts or other liquid nitrogen applications
  5. children, unless they are in a high risk group
  6. maternity and obstetrics patients except for elective caesareans and any high risk cases, for example, high risk of complications in the mother or potential complications in the baby, such as needing treatment in a special care baby unit or neonatal intensive care, because of size or known complications.

  7. Who is considered to be at higher risk of carrying MRSA?

    You may be considered to be at a higher risk of carrying MRSA if:

  8. you have been diagnosed as having MRSA before
  9. you have been in hospital (as in inpatient) during the previous three months or are frequently readmitted to any healthcare facility
  10. if you are a resident of a care home where there are a lot of people carrying MRSA
  11. someone else in your household is known to be carrying MRSA
  12. you have a long-term health condition, such as type 2 diabetes

You may not fall into the category of patients considered to be high risk listed above. Some hospitals may routinely screen because of the type of surgery you are having. The consultant or GP or nurse will be able to tell you if your procedure requires screening for MRSA.

I have been screened for MSSA, is this the same as MRSA?

Some hospitals also routinely screen for MSSA (meticillin sensitive Staphylococcus aureus) at the same time as MRSA (meticillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus). MSSA is responsive to meticillin and can be easier to treat, if you were having surgery and you were found to be colonised with MSSA the hospital may carry out a similar decolonisation regime, it is less likely that you would be isolated however. As with MRSA, attention to hand-hygiene, keeping the procedure as free from bacteria as possible using aseptic non-touch techniques, and barrier nursing, that is the wearing of aprons and protective clothing, would take place.

Reference sources

MRSA infection - Screening - NHS Choices

MRSA screening - operational guidance - Department of Health 2008

NICE Infection Control Quality Standard [QS61] Published date: April 2014

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) quality standard [QS113]: Healthcare-associated infections - Published date: February 2016 - Information resource added 17 February 2016

Implementation of modified admission MRSA screening guidance - Department of Health 2014

Other useful information about MRSA and healthcare associated infections

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence: Prevention and control of healthcare-associated infections quality improvement guide [PH36]:- Published date: November 2011

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE): Infection Control Quality Standard [QS61]: - Published date: April 2014

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) quality standard [QS113]: Healthcare-associated infections - Published date: February 2016 - Information resource added 17 February 2016

Preventing Healthcare Infections - information and guidelines for Scotland on MRSA and other healthcare associated infections

Back to "About MRSA"

Go to "Symptoms and treatment for MRSA infection"

Content written 09/08/2021
Review due 09/08/2024

(c) MRSA Action UK 2021


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