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MRSA Infections: What Parents Need to Know
Recently, there have been many reports about the increased number of MRSA infections among children and adults. While these are serious infections, they can be prevented and treated. The following information will help you understand the precautions you can take to help prevent the spread of MRSA, and recognize and get prompt treatment for infections that may occur.

What is MRSA?

MRSA is a strain of the “Staph” bacteria has developed resistance to the methicillin or penicillin class of antibiotics once used to treat it. Although MRSA can no longer be treated with penicillin and related antibiotics (including amoxicillin, dicloxacillin, augmentin and cephalosporins), there are other antibiotics that can treat it.

Where is the Staph bacteria found?

Staph is a common germ carried on the skin and in the nose of healthy people. Approximately one-third of people carry the Staph bacteria without ever developing symptoms of skin infection or illness. Overall, only one in 100 people carry MRSA, the resistant type of Staph. MRSA is more common in people who have been in the hospital or a nursing home, particularly if they have a weakened immune system or have had surgery or medical procedures causing breaks in their skin. MRSA is also more common in people who have been on antibiotics for a long time, such as young children treated for repeated ear infections.

How do the Staph bacteria spread?

The Staph bacteria spreads from one person to another, usually by direct contact: a child scratching or wiping his nose and then touching another child, for example, or teen-agers playing football or wrestling. The Staph bacteria can also be spread by contact with surfaces or items that a person with Staph infection has touched, such as towels, pillows, athletic equipment or shaving razors.

What do Staph infections look like?

Staph is one of the most common causes of skin infections. Staph skin infections are more likely to occur when there are breaks in the skin that allow the bacteria to enter, such as rubbed skin around the nose from a cold or scraped knees or elbows.

Staph skin infections include:
  • Impetigo. A patch of skin is reddish and covered with yellow, honey-like oozing or crustiness.
  • Cellulitis. A patch of skin is red, hot, swollen and tender.
  • Boils and abscesses. These start looking like a spider bite or a reddish-purple pimple. They grow larger with yellow pus in the center, redness, heat, swelling and tenderness.
How are Staph infections treated?

Most Staph skin infections are mild and can be treated by washing the skin, draining the pus and using antibiotics on the skin or orally. If a Staph skin infection is found to be resistant to routine antibiotics, other antibiotics can be successfully used. Rarely, Staph infections can become “invasive” and cause much more serious infections of the bloodstream and other organs, which require hospitalization and treatment with intravenous (IV) antibiotics and sometimes surgery.

How can we prevent the spread of Staph infections?

1. Keep your hands clean! The most important way to prevent the spread of Staph and most other infections is by making sure that children and adults wash their hands frequently and thoroughly. Wash your hands after blowing your nose, touching skin lesions, playing outdoors and on gym equipment, and going to the bathroom. Also wash well before preparing and eating food, and doing any skin care or medical procedures. Wash your hands under warm, running water, scrub with soap for 10 to15 seconds and rinse well. Dry hands with an air dryer, disposable paper towel or personal towel. If running water and soap isn’t available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Be sure to have some available on the playground, in the car and on field trips.

2. Keep your skin clean. Bathe or shower after athletic activities. Use warm, running water, soap and a personal towel.

3. Don’t share personal hygiene items. Each person should have his own towel, clothes and shaving razor. It is preferable to use liquid soap rather than sharing bar soap.

4. Clean and cover skin wounds. Immediately clean and bandage cuts and scrapes, and keep wounds clean, covered and dry. This will help prevent developing a skin infection and prevent the spread of infections to others. Use disposable gloves when caring for skin lesions, dispose of bandages in the trash and wash your hands well afterward. Tell children not to touch their lesions, or other children’s.

5. For signs of skin infection, see the doctor. Observe children for signs of skin infections—skin redness, swelling, heat, oozing, pus and tenderness—and note if a skin infection is not getting better. Don’t squeeze or try to pop pimples or boils, which could spread the infection. Cover the skin lesion with a bandage, and make sure the child is evaluated and treated by a doctor.

6. Take antibiotics exactly as prescribed. When the doctor prescribes antibiotics, complete the full course even if you think the infection is getting better sooner. Don’t share antibiotics with other people or save them to take later. And don’t take antibiotics for an infection that doesn’t need it, such as the common cold. This can increase the spread of resistant bacteria.

7. Talk with supervisors at your childcare program, school and gym. Make sure they maintain routines for daily cleaning and sanitizing of frequently-touched surfaces, such as play tables, diaper changing tables, faucets, toys and athletic equipment. If your child has a MRSA infection, notify his daycare provider or school immediately.

For more information about MRSA and other infections, visit the Centers for Disease Control website, www.cdc.gov.
Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician