MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. It is one of many strains of a bacterium called Staphylococcus aureus -- or staph, for short. Staph bacteria are common on skin and in noses. Staph infection was first reported in humans more than 40 years ago.
In the past, staph rarely caused problems, except for minor skin infections. And these infections could be treated effectively with antibiotics. But in recent years, there has been a big increase in antibiotic-resistant strains of staph infection, such as MRSA, even in children. For example, head and neck MRSA infections in children more than doubled during a five-year period.
It's important to know how to help prevent MRSA in children and what to do if you suspect your child has it.
MRSA is a concern today because it can be harder to treat than other infections and it's infecting healthy people, including children -- not just those with weakened immune system, as in the past. This type of MRSA is called community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA). That's because it affects people in the community, outside of hospitals and nursing homes. And, with more people infected with community-associated MRSA, more children with MRSA have been admitted to hospitals.
CA-MRSA usually causes skin infections. Although rare, MRSA can also cause more serious infections such as pneumonia.
Who's most at risk of getting CA-MRSA? Children (or adults) who come into close contact with other people in places like:
In these kinds of settings, MRSA is more likely because kids have skin-to-skin contact and may share equipment or toys that have not been cleaned. Children are also more likely to have frequent scrapes or bug bites -- potential entryways for infection.
MRSA in Children: Prevention
You may have been scared by all the media attention given to MRSA. And you're right to pay attention. But also know that you can take steps to help keep your children safe. Here's what you can do:
Teach your children to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 15 seconds. This includes after playing with pets or other children.
Have your children use alcohol-based hand sanitizers or wipes when washing isn't possible.
Teach your children not to share towels, uniforms, or other items that come into contact with bare skin.
Keep cuts or broken skin clean and covered with dry bandages until healed.
Encourage your children to clean shared sports equipment with antiseptic solution before each use. Or, he or she can use a towel as a barrier between skin and equipment.
If your child has dry skin, eczema, or a skin condition, use creams and moisturizers as directed by the doctor.