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MRSA and Nursing Home Residents

MRSA in the Nursing Home

Quick Answer

MRSA represents a serious health risk in nursing homes. This dangerous bacterial infection resists traditional treatments, allowing it more time to develop into serious complications like pneumonia or blood poisoning. This is dangerous enough for healthy adults, but the risk rises significantly for elderly nursing home patients with compromised immune systems.

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MRSA Infections in Nursing Homes

Most infections caused by bacteria are treatable through antibiotics. However, one strain of a common bacteria, called Staphylococcus aureus, resists the medicine typically prescribed to kill infections.

Its name reflects this: Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

Studies point to residents returning home from a hospital stay as the most frequent origin of MRSA in nursing homes.

From there, MRSA thrives in an environment with:

  • Close-quarters living
  • Less strict hygienic standards
  • Invasive medical devices like catheters and breathing tubes
  • Weak immune systems

“A 2015 study of 13 community-based nursing homes found that around 28 percent of patients harbored MRSA.” – University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation

A staph infection generally starts out as a red bump that looks like a pimple or an insect bite.

As the infection progresses, the wound becomes:

  • Fever-inducing
  • Filled with pus
  • Warm to the touch

Because MRSA is resistant to common antibiotics, it can be much more difficult to treat and bring under control. This leaves more time for the disease to spread and create complications.

What starts as a skin sore can spread to infections in the:

  • Bloodstream
  • Bones
  • Heart
  • Joints
  • Lungs

Causes of MRSA in Nursing Home Residents

Several factors increase the likelihood of MRSA in a nursing home.

  • MRSA can be carried by a patient without any signs or symptoms. While the host might not get sick, he or she can transmit the bacteria to others with open wounds or other entry points.
  • The elderly in general have weaker immune systems, making them more susceptible to all infections, not just MRSA. With that said, an infection that resists treatment is doubly dangerous.
  • Health care settings like nursing homes are especially prone to infections. Catheters, breathing tubes, and feeding tubes are all sources of infection, and caregivers are responsible for multiple patients. If glove etiquette and handwashing are lax, then MRSA will easily travel from patient to patient.

Signs and Symptoms of MRSA

MRSA starts out as a warm, red bump on the skin, just like any other staph infection.

As the infection grows, other symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Filling with pus or other drainages
  • Pain
  • Swelling

Because the elderly typically have a lifetime of antibiotic use stored up in their bodies, any MRSA that takes hold will likely be especially virulent.

Complications Related to MRSA

Early detection and treatment are critical to slowing the spread of MRSA, but the bacteria are typically not identified until it becomes more serious. More often, what starts as treating an ordinary infection takes a serious turn when the nursing home resident begins showing certain warning signs.

These warning signs include:

  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Malaise
  • Muscle aches
  • Rash
  • Shortness of breath

By this stage, the MRSA has become entrenched in the bloodstream and infection site and will require serious treatment. It’s also likely that more serious complications are in store for the nursing home resident.

More serious complications may include:

  • MRSA Osteomyelitis occurs when infection spreads into the bone. This can cause part of the bone to die or pus to infect the joint instead of leaking from the skin. Both are very painful and limit mobility.
  • Pneumonia is a dangerous infection of the lungs. This becomes even more hazardous when a treatment-resistant MRSA causes the infection.
  • If left unchecked, MRSA can enter the bloodstream from the original infection site. This causes serious health complications as the MRSA spreads throughout the body.

Death is a possible result of all of these complications. If left untreated, for instance, a lung infection can fill the lungs with pus until breathing becomes impossible.

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Diagnosing MRSA in Nursing Home Residents

A laboratory test is necessary to confirm that MRSA is the source of a staph infection. This starts with a swab taken from the patient’s nose or skin.

Most tests take up to 48 hours to confirm MRSA, but new products in development can produce results in hours.

Preventing and Treating MRSA Infections


While MRSA is resistant to many strains of antibiotics, there are treatment options.

Treatment options are as follows:

  • Complete the entire course of prescribed antibiotics. It takes an especially powerful antibiotic to eradicate MRSA, and an incomplete regimen will only help your loved one’s strain develop a new resistance.
  • Surgery may be required to drain a wound’s pus or infection.


In less severe cases, a fresh, dry bandage and precautions like using gloves to change bandages will contain MRSA. However, instances of blood infections or large, open sores require the nursing home resident to remain quarantined.

Other important steps include:

  • Avoiding sharing personal toiletry items, including towels and razors
  • Education about correct gown and glove use
  • Frequent and thorough hand washing
  • Good hygiene, including regular bathing
  • Proper sanitation procedures should be followed when handling sensitive medical equipment like feeding tubes and catheters

Steps for Family Members

It’s important to be proactive when interacting with health care providers.

  • Ask a nurse or doctor to wash their hands in front of you if you cannot confirm they are clean.
  • Follow-up on sanitation procedures for medical equipment and verify sterilization.
  • Good handwashing with soap or using an alcohol-based sanitizer by family members or other visitors is strongly recommended, too.

If your loved one contracted MRSA in a nursing home due to staff negligence, there also may be legal options available to you to cover medical expenses and bring justice for their pain and suffering.

Legal Options for MRSA Infections in Nursing Home Residents

Experts agree that long-term care facilities like nursing homes are one of the most likely places to contract a MRSA infection.

A combination of weak immune systems, an abundance of invasive medical devices, and a steady turnover of outside visitors all make it an ideal breeding ground for this staph infection.

MRSA can leave an elderly nursing home resident with permanent, long-term injuries — if it doesn’t kill them first.

If someone you love has been injured by a nursing home’s negligence, compensation from a lawsuit can pay for medical treatments and other expenses stemming from abuse and neglect.

To learn more about MRSA and your legal options, call (855) 264-6310 or fill out our contact form today.

Nursing Home Abuse Support Team
Julie Rivers HeadshotReviewed by:Julie Rivers, MBA

Eldercare Advocate & Expert

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Julie Rivers is an eldercare advocate with over 15 years of dedicated service to victims of nursing home abuse and neglect. Her journey in this field became deeply personal when she assumed the role of an unpaid caregiver during her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

The Nursing Home Abuse Center (NHAC) was founded to bring justice to those affected by nursing home and elder abuse. Our mission is to educate and empower victims of abuse and their families to take a stand against this unlawful mistreatment. We work to return dignity back to those who have been broken down by nursing home abuse and neglect.

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  2. California Department of Public Health. (2017, May 8). Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Bloodstream Infection (MRSA BSI). Retrieved July 12, 2024, from
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). MRSA and the Workplace. Retrieved July 12, 2024, from
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2024, April 11). Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) Basics. Retrieved July 12, 2024, from
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012, July). Predicting Risk for Death from MRSA Bacteremia. Retrieved July 12, 2024, from
  6. Mayo Clinic. (2018, October 18). MRSA infection. Retrieved July 12, 2024, from
  7. Mody, L. (2015, May 29). High rates of MRSA transmission found between nursing home residents and healthcare workers: Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation. Retrieved July 12, 2024, from
  8. Montoya, A., & Mody, L. (2011, December 7). Common infections in nursing homes: A review of current issues and challenges. Retrieved July 12, 2024, from doi: 10.2217/AHE.11.80