Understanding infections

Two hospital infections that you have most likely heard about in the news are MRSA and Clostridium difficile, also known as C diff or C difficile. Here we explain these infections and give key information for patients and visitors.

There are two patient information leaflets on the right hand side of the screen that we have created to give you more information about infection prevention and control. This information does not replace the individual advice and explanations given to you by our staff so if you have any questions or need further information, please do not hesitate to ask us when you come into hospital.


About MRSA

MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and is one of the Staphylococcus aureus family of bacteria. Although this organism is resistant to many widely used antibiotics, there are other antibiotics available that are effective against MRSA.

MRSA and Staphylococcus aureus organisms can live on the skin and in the noses of many of us without causing any harm. For every three people, one will already be carrying it or another related bacterium on their body.

However, if MRSA enters our bodies, for instance through a break in the skin, then it can cause an infection. If it gets into our bloodstream the infection can be more serious.

The MRSA cases that appear in the news are normally of this kind and are referred to by medical professionals as MRSA bacteraemia. An example of what we call an MRSA bacteraemia would be MRSA that has entered a patient's bloodstream.

All Staphylococcus aureus can cause infections in the way described above, but they are normally easy to treat using antibiotics. Because MRSA is resistant to antibiotics it can be more difficult to treat.

Preventing the spread of MRSA in our hospitals

In line with national policy, all patients admitted to both our hospitals are tested for the presence of MRSA with a simple skin test. If a patient is harmlessly carrying MRSA (sometimes referred to as 'colonisations'), or if they have a MRSA infection, then we take suitable steps to reduce any risk to the infected patient and other patients in the hospital. These steps include being nursed in a separate room and being given the appropriate treatment.

Clostridium difficile

About Clostridium difficile

Like MRSA, Clostridium difficile (C diff or C difficile) is carried by many of us without any ill effects. About three in every hundred adults and more than sixty in every hundred children have the bacteria in their gut without having any problems. In fact, we all have a range of bacteria living inside us and when we are healthy Clostridium difficile is kept in check by other 'good' bacteria.

How does a Clostridium difficile infection occur?

Under certain conditions the Clostridium difficile bacteria balance is disrupted. This can happen when someone takes antibiotics. Some of the ‘good’ bacteria are destroyed by the antibiotics and as a result the Clostridium difficile bacteria multiplies, upsetting the balance.

When the Clostridium difficile reaches a certain level it begins producing toxins - substances that can harm the body. The toxins produced damage the cells lining the intestines and so cause diarrhoea. When this happens we say that the person has 'C difficile infection'.

How can Clostridium difficile be treated?

If the illness is mild and you are on antibiotics, we can normally treat an infection by stopping the antibiotics and replacing the fluids you have lost while you have had diarrhoea.

Though antibiotics are part of the cause of Clostridium difficile infections, there are some types of antibiotics that we can use to treat them, including metronidazole or vancomycin.

Should you be diagnosed with Clostridium difficile, you will be cared for in a single room with separate toilet facilities rather than on the ward. This helps to prevent the spread of infection. If several patients have the infection, you will all be cared for in a separate bay on the ward.

Enhanced cleaning of the ward or bay will take place, staff will wear gloves and aprons when caring for you and items of medical equipment will be reserved for your use only. Again, all this helps prevent the further spread of infection.