There has been a lot of debate and misinformation as to whether hand sanitizer actually kills MRSA or not. We’ve decided to settle this debate and help you understand how to protect from and fight MRSA!

What Is MRSA

Meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus MRSA is a strain of bacteria with limited treatment options because of its immunity to the antibiotic Meticillin. The bacteria is typically found in healthcare facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes, and care homes.

The sick, the elderly and those with weak immune systems are especially susceptible to contracting MRSA. Healthy people are capable of carrying the virus on their skin without it affecting them.

The infection spreads easily; this is typically through the skin to skin contact; however, it is also spread through sheets, towels, dressings or clothes. MRSA is found in wounds, on the skin, in the nose, stools or urine. If a contaminated person touches a surface such as a doorknob, countertop, or handle on a subway or bus, it will stay alive for several weeks, and anyone who touches any of these surfaces is at risk of becoming infected.

The bacteria can also survive for extended periods on the following:

  • On a blanket for approximately 203 days
  • On a mop head for approximately 8 weeks
  • On a cotton towel for approximately 9 weeks
  • On dust for approximately 7 weeks
  • On the skin of a healthy person permanently

MRSA is also quickly spread by busy nurses who are constantly using their hands.

Individuals can increase their chances of becoming infected with MRSA if they:

  • Take antibiotics often
  • Take antibiotics without a doctor prescribing it (some people may have tablets left over from a previous prescription
  • Don’t take antibiotics as instructed by the doctor. Individuals might stop taking their pills because their symptoms have gone, but the toughest germs are killed by the last few pills

According to the US pharmacist website, approximately 1.2 million people per year contract the bacteria during their hospital stay.

Symptoms depend on the area of the body that has been affected; however, the majority of infections are found on the skin and manifest as:

  • Cellulitis: Infection of the tissues and fat directly under the skin
  • Impetigo: Blisters filled with puss
  • Boils: Hair follicles filled with puss
  • Abscesses: Pockets of puss under the skin
  • Styes: Infected glands around the eyelids
  • Carbuncles: large lumps filled with puss under the skin

Minor skin problems such as burns, spots or cuts may not appear problematic at first; however, if it becomes affected, book an appointment with your healthcare practitioner immediately. A wound infected by the MRSA bacteria will swell up, become tender and red. It will also seep yellow pus-like substance.

MRSA can also attack the bloodstream; the first point of contact will be through a primary wound such as a medical or chest related infection, urinary tract, or through an intravenous tube or a catheter. When MRSA enters the bloodstream it can affect the majority of the body’s internal organs and cause the following:

  • Endocarditis: Heart lining infection
  • Septic arthritis: Severe joint problems
  • Osteomyelitis: Infection of the bone marrow
  • Meningitis: Brain lining infection
  • Pneumonia
  • Internal abscess

Infected people may also experience a very severe fever.

Can You Kill MRSA With Hand Sanitizer?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, some hand sanitizers do not prevent the spread of MRSA. However, this is contrary to recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The organization claims that hand sanitizers with an alcohol base protect against MRSA and advise people at risk to use them when there is no water available.

The FDA claim that there are four hand sanitizer companies that violate their regulations. FDA compliance director Deborah Autor stated that there are no over the counter products that provide 100% protection against MRSA. As a result, these companies were instructed to remove misleading labels from their promotional materials and websites. The FDA do agree, however, that hand-sanitizers do eliminate germs, but not all of them.

Washing your hands with soap and water does reduce bacteria; however, according to the US National Library of Medicine, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are most useful for preventing MRSA.

To prevent MRSA, patients admitted to a healthcare facility should do the following:

  • Wash hands before and after using the bathroom, or after touching a surface such a door handle or elevator button
  • Care for wounds as instructed and take the necessary precautions with devices such as drips or urinary catheters
  • If anything needs changing or is unclean, report it to a member of staff as soon as possible

For family members and friends visiting a loved one in a healthcare facility, take precautions by doing the following:

  • Wash your hands before entering and leaving the facility, wipes or gel are usually placed at the entrance to the ward or near the patient’s bed
  • If you have a cut or broken skin, cover it with a dressing before your arrival

How To Manage MRSA At Home?

If you suspect you have been infected with MRSA, go to the hospital immediately. If you are diagnosed but cleared to go home, apply the following directions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, patients should treat MRSA at home by doing the following:

  • Make sure hands are always clean, in particular when changing wound bandages or dressings
  • Make sure any wounds are cleaned often and that directions are followed for dressing changes until the wound has healed
  • Wash bed linens and clothes in a washing machine with detergent
  • Refrain from sharing items such as razors or towels
  • Listen to your doctor at all times

How Long Does It Take To Go Away?

The MRSA infection is treated with antibiotics; this is administered orally or intravenously. It can take anything from a few days to a few weeks for MRSA to completely leave the body. Patients are placed in isolation or on a ward with other MRSA patients to prevent the infection from spreading. However, if the condition is mild, treatment can take place at home.

Treatment is also provided in the form of decolonization; this involves:

  • Cleaning the skin for five days using an antibacterial shampoo
  • Applying antibacterial cream to the affected area three times a day for five days

National Health Service, “MRSA” link
CentersFor Disease Control And Prevention, “Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)” link
Wiley Online Library, “Bacterial contamination on touch surfaces in the public transport system and in public areas of a hospital in London” link
US Pharmacist, “Trends In MRSA Prevailence” link
US Food and Drug Administration, “Hand Sanitizers Carry Unproven Claims to Prevent MRSA Infections” link
US National Library Of Medicine, “Increased use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers and successful eradication of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus from a neonatal intensive care unit: a multivariate time series analysis” link