Jan. 20, 2009 -- There has been an "alarming rise" in antibiotic-resistant head and neck infections in young children in recent years, researchers from Emory University in Atlanta report.
Specifically, researchers say more and more elementary school-aged children are developing Staphylococcus aureus ("staph," or S. aureus) infections that do not respond to the antibiotic methicillin. The bacteria responsible for such infections are called MRSA (for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). MRSA is a common culprit in head and neck infections, and doctors believe it's responsible for almost every skin infection.
Before the 1980s, most MRSA infections occurred in patients who were hospitalized. But in the past decade, the bacteria have become more common in crowded community environments, such as nursing homes and prisons, and among those with no known risk factors, according to information in the journal article.
"In recent years, there have been increasing reports of community-acquired MRSA infections in children," the authors write in the journal report.
For the study, Iman Naseri, MD, and colleagues from Emory's department of otolaryngology reviewed pediatric head and neck infection records from more than 300 hospitals in the U.S. between 2001 and 2006.
Over the six-year period, MRSA head and neck infections in children jumped from 12% of all S. aureus infections in the study in 2001 to 28% in 2006. The average age of the children was about 6 1/2. Most MRSA head and neck infections occurred in the ears (34%), followed by the nose and sinuses (28.3%) and the throat and neck (14.2%).
The findings, published in the January issue of Archives of Otolaryngology -- Head & Neck Surgery, have prompted a call for more cautious use of antibiotics. According to the FDA, increasing use of antibiotics plays a large role in the development of antibiotic resistance. The U.S. government calls antibiotic resistance a major public health threat.
"Judicious use of antibiotic agents and increased effectiveness in diagnosis and treatment are warranted to reduce further antimicrobial drug resistance in pediatric head and neck infections," Naseri's team writes.
The authors say their results "depict an alarming increase in MRSA in the United States." They encourage more rapid testing of suspected head and neck infections so that caregivers may prescribe the appropriate antibiotic treatment immediately. Using the wrong antibiotics or using antibiotics to treat a viral infection (such as a cold) can lead to further drug resistance, according to the FDA.
Take a closer look at MRSA with WebMD's MRSA slideshow.