What is MRSA screening?

Most people have heard of MRSA, the so-called hospital superbug. But what exactly is it – and what implications does it have for patient transfers? If you’re planning to repatriate a loved one to a new hospital abroad, the short answer is that your patient is likely to face some kind of “MRSA screening” when they arrive. This won’t stop your transport from going ahead. And, as a bed-to-bed repatriation company, we’ll make sure your patient gets safely and securely to their destination hospital bed whatever happens. But it’s worth knowing about ahead of time – particularly if the unexpected happens and your patient tests positive for MRSA on arrival. Here's everything you need to know…


What is MRSA?

MRSA is a type of bacteria that has become resistant to several standard antibiotics, such as methicillin. Hence the name: MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Staphylococcus bacteria (“staph”) are commonly found on the skin and inside the nose. In most cases they cause no symptoms, or result in mild skin infections.

Who tends to get MRSA?

MRSA is actually very common. It’s thought to live harmlessly on the skin of about 3-4 percent of people. A person in this situation is known as a “carrier”. MRSA is much more likely to be found in clinical settings, however. A study carried out in care homes, for example, found that over 20% of the residents were carrying MRSA.

Is MRSA dangerous?

Most healthy people aren’t at risk from MRSA; many carriers won’t even know the bacteria is present on them. However, if MRSA gets under the skin and goes deeper into the body – a true infection – it can cause serious issues. This is a particular problem in hospitals, where patients have a higher risk of infection due to wound sites and catheter use, for example, or because they have lower immunity.

What does this mean for medical transports?

If your patient is being transferred from a hospital, it means they’re likely to have an MRSA screening when they arrive at their destination hospital. This will usually take place in a pre-admission facility or a small room near the A&E intake. It’s a protective measure to prevent any bacteria from entering and spreading in the hospital.

Will our patient need to stay in the MRSA room?

Very likely, yes. While details vary from hospital to hospital, the standard procedure for patients arriving from a hospital abroad is to keep them in the MRSA screening facility until the outcome of the test is negative. This usually means they’ll need to have a bed booked in advance – which can be challenging given the current pressure on hospital beds. (Bear in mind that EMS handles bed bookings for you as part of the service.)

What does the screening involve?

It varies from hospital to hospital, but typically a nurse will use a cotton bud swab to take a sample from somewhere like your patient’s nose, throat, armpits or, occasionally, a wound site. It only takes a few seconds and shouldn’t be uncomfortable. They may do this alongside other routine tests, such as blood pressure measurements or blood tests. The MRSA test will then be sent to a lab for results.

How long does it take to get a result?

The standard test usually takes 24-48 hours, because the technicians have to grow the sample bacteria in the lab in order to analyse them for MRSA. Recently, however, a new molecular test called the cobas MRSA/SA test has come onto the market. It uses the same swab technique but can detect MRSA in as little as five hours. This may become increasingly common over the next few years.

What happens if you test positive?

If your patient does test positive for MRSA, the medical team will provide treatment to eradicate it. If they’re simply carrying the bacteria, this will probably involve an antiseptic cream for their nose and antibacterial washes or shampoo. They may also need to change their clothes and bedding regularly, and they may be asked to isolate in another part of the hospital. Full MRSA infections are usually treated with a special, non-resistant antibiotic delivered by intravenous (IV) drip.

What happens next?

Again, it depends on the hospital. It’s worth bearing in mind that your patient may be asked to remain in hospital until the MRSA shows signs of clearing up. But, if they feel it’s safe to do so, most hospitals will be happy to let your patient go home to continue their MRSA treatment or to complete their course of antibiotics.

If your patient is being transferred to the hospital for an operation and they test positive for MRSA on arrival, the doctors could decide to delay their surgery until they’ve been treated. If this happens, your patient will normally be taken to a separate room or ward where they can start their MRSA treatment immediately.

Contact us

If you have any questions or concerns about hospital transfers, we would be very happy to offer advice and recommendations. You can contact the team quickly and easily by phone or email. You can also get a free cost estimate in minutes by heading to our online pricing calculator and adding a few details about your patient and their potential transport.

Please note that EMS Air Ambulance & Medical Repatriation is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Get a free quote