We describe an outbreak of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in a dermatology day-care unit and the methods used to determine the mechanism of spread and control it. The epidemic strain had a characteristic sensitivity pattern and was typeable with phages 29, 80, 95, 47, 54 and 77, which was of considerable value in interpreting the epidemiological data. The method of spread was studied by examination of the medical and nursing records of patients who had acquired MRSA (to determine which members of staff they had encountered and which other MRSA-positive patients had been present in the department at the same time) and by the microbiological screening of all patients and staff. However, screening of all staff by nasal swabbing failed to identify carriage of the epidemic strain, while extensive swabbing of surfaces on the day-care unit also failed to show any evidence of MRSA in the environment. This suggests that the MRSA was most probably spread from patient to patient via the hands of staff, although there was also the possibility of direct transmission from patient to patient. Nine patients acquired the unique strain of MRSA and once acquired it proved difficult to eradicate, although in the majority, the infection did not appear to be clinically significant. However, in two patients MRSA contributed to a fatal outcome: these were the two most elderly patients and were the only two who were receiving systemic corticosteroids.
The outbreak was brought under control with rigorous hygienic measures and the decision to discharge all patients with MRSA from the day-care unit. Repeat screening (swabs of nose, axilla and groin) of all day-care unit and in-patients 11 months after the last MRSA case showed no evidence of any residual MRSA infection in the day-care unit.