You've probably heard about infection with MRSA (or
). These news-making bacteria have become a more common cause of
infections over the past few years, especially in kids who've
never been in the hospital. It requires different antibiotics to
treat it, and doctors may have to use other approaches (like
draining pus from skin abscesses caused by the bug) to cure an
MRSA is among emerging types of bacteria that the usual
antibiotics just can't tackle anymore. Why? Because certain
strains of bacteria, sometimes called "super bugs," have
built up a resistance - or immunity - to a lot of the often-used
For years, the medical community has worried that the rampant
overuse and misuse of antibiotics, especially in kids, could give
rise to this kind of drug-resistant bacteria - a good reason for
doctors and parents to avoid using antibiotics for children's
common colds or other virus infections that don't respond to
antibiotic treatment anyway.
A specific strain of the common bacteria
, MRSA causes a type of "staph" infection that's been
cropping up among otherwise healthy people mostly as skin
infections, such as abscesses. Staph bacteria live on most
people's skin or in their noses without causing any problems.
But a staph infection can happen when the germ enters the body
through broken skin such as a cut, scrape, or rash.
Staph is the usual suspect in many skin infections. Staph
skin infections, including those caused by MRSA, usually begin
as red bumps resembling boils or pimples (people sometimes mistake
them for spider bites). The bumps often become swollen, painful,
and filled with pus.
Most staph skin infections are minor and can be remedied by
regularly washing and bandaging the area and using oral antibiotics
or antibiotic ointments. Sometimes the abscesses from staph need to
be drained by a doctor.
Because MRSA can't be treated with antibiotics that are
routinely given, such as methicillin, penicillin, and amoxicillin,
doctors must use other medications.
MRSA can sometimes cause more serious infections, such as bone
infections or pneumonia. MRSA pneumonia is rare, but is more
of a risk for kids already sick with the flu.
The Real "News"
Although MRSA is making headlines, it's not a new infection
- the first case was reported in the 1960s. The difference is that
now, MRSA is affecting more people outside of hospitals. MRSA used
to be seen only in those with weakened immune systems - chronically
ill people who'd been hospitalized for a long time or had
surgery, those receiving long courses of antibiotic therapy, or
people living in long-term care facilities like nursing homes or
But now a growing number of otherwise healthy people who
are not considered at risk for MRSA are getting the infection.
, this type of staph infection has been found most recently in a
few high school and professional sports teams. The bug can be
passed to athletes via gyms and locker rooms and through shared
equipment or skin-to-skin contact (e.g., wrestling and football).
Kids in child-care settings may also be at risk.
What This Means to You
Staph infections can spread through the air and to other people
or other parts of your body via contaminated surfaces (e.g.,
towels, used bandages) or dirty hands or fingernails.
To help keep this bug at bay in your household:
- Make sure every member of your family washes their hands well
- Use alcohol-based instant hand sanitizers.
- Keep any broken skin clean and covered with a bandage.
- Don't share razors, towels, or other items that come into
contact with bare skin.
- Clean shared sports equipment with antiseptic solution before
each use or use a barrier (clothing or a towel) between your skin
and the equipment.
Call the doctor if:
- your child has an area of skin that's red, painful,
swollen, and/or filled with pus
- your child has inflamed skin and is also feverish or feels
- skin infections seem to be passing from one family member to
another or if two or more family members have skin infections at
the same time
Serious cases of MRSA are still relatively rare, but an ounce of
prevention can go a long way toward avoiding the infection and
keeping your family healthy.
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: October 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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