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 inside nostrils. 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. These resistant strains used to be seen mainly in hospitalized patients or chronically ill patients. Now it is found in healthy people, including 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.
Why MRSA in Kids Is a Concern
MRSA is a concern today because it can be harder to treat than other infections, and it's infecting healthy people -- not just those with weakened immune systems 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:
- Day care centers
- Locker rooms
- Classrooms and other school settings
- Workout facilities
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, they 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. Try to keep areas of flare-up on the skin covered to prevent an entryway for bacteria, as the natural skin barrier may be compromised.
- Protect against sunburn and bug bites.
Of course, if a friend or someone in your family becomes infected with MRSA, these prevention steps are even more important.
Remember: although MRSA can show up anywhere, it is more likely when these "Five Cs" are present:
- Contact between skin
- Compromised skin (cuts or scrapes)
- Contaminated items
- Cleanliness lacking
MRSA in Children: Symptoms
If you suspect your child has a MRSA infection, seek medical attention right away.
Call the doctor if:
- Your child or other family member has a red, painful, swollen, warm, pus-filled, or red-streaked area of skin, with or without draining; these skin infections may look like boils. They often show up in areas where there has been a cut or scrape.
- Your child or other family member also has a fever or feels sick
- Skin infections are passing between family members or friends
MRSA in Children: Treatment
Treatment for MRSA may include:
- Draining any skin abscesses
- Prescribing antibiotics to prevent widespread infection
Do not try to drain infections yourself. This can worsen the infection and spread it to other people. Be sure your child takes any antibiotics exactly as prescribed. This can help prevent other bacteria from becoming resistant, which is more likely to happen when germs aren't completely wiped out by treatment.
To help prevent the spread of MRSA infection, do this:
- Change any bandages often. Do it before you can see any drainage through the bandage.
- Wear gloves while cleaning a wound or changing bandages.
- Carefully dispose of used bandages.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after you finish or use an alcohol-based sanitizer.
- Clean surfaces with detergent-based cleaners or EPA-registered disinfectants.
- Use separate hand towels, washcloths, and towels.
- Encourage showers instead of baths.
And, don't forget to practice other MRSA prevention steps. Unless your doctor says otherwise, your child can continue attending school, even with an MRSA infection, as long as the infected skin can be kept entirely covered and contained with a clean and dry bandage.