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MRSA and Children: What You Should Know

Millions of Americans develop infections each year from drug-resistant staphylococcus bacteria. This type of staph bacteria is known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). MRSA is resistant to common antibiotics, including penicillin and amoxicillin. But it can be treated with many other oral or IV (intravenous) antibiotics.

MRSA infections were first seen mostly in hospitals and nursing homes. A very harmful kind of resistant "staph" bacteria has developed outside of healthcare settings. It's called community-acquired MRSA. Like hospital MRSA infections, it can become life-threatening if the bacteria spreads from the skin to the lungs, the bloodstream, or other organs in the body. But most infections clear on their own or with a short course of certain oral antibiotics.

What are the symptoms of MRSA?

MRSA infections generally begin as skin infections. The bacterium invades the skin through an open sore, cut, or scrape. For children, the most common source of infection is a simple cut or abrasion.

Boy with cut on his knee

If caught early, a MRSA infection is usually easy to treat. It's important to seek medical care for your child immediately if you notice any symptoms, because the infection can rapidly become serious if it's not treated right away. 

These are symptoms of a MRSA skin infection:

  • Bump that is painful, red, leaking pus, or swollen (this may look like a spider bite, pimple, or boil)

  • Bumps under the skin that are swollen or hard to the touch

  • Skin around a sore that is warm or hot to the touch

  • Bump that grows rapidly or doesn’t heal

  • Painful sore along with a fever

  • Rash or pus-filled blisters

  • Draining boil or abscess

MRSA infections often start at a place where the skin is already visibly broken, such as with a cut or sore. They may also occur in places that are usually covered by hair.

When to seek medical care

Call your child’s healthcare provider right away if you think that your child's cut is infected or if you notice unusual, painful red bumps or boils. Do not try to drain or treat a MRSA infection on your own. This can spread the infection to other people or make it worse for your child. Instead, cover the suspected infection, wash your hands thoroughly, and call your child's healthcare provider.

Your child may have a skin infection along with signs of a systemic infection. These signs include fever, chills, severe headache, sleepiness, or rash. If this is the case, seek immediate medical care.

What are the complications of MRSA?

If not treated, a MRSA skin infection may:

  • Infect other people through physical contact or contact with contaminated items

  • Cause damage to nearby tissue

  • Turn into an infection that spreads through the body. This may cause blood poisoning, pneumonia, flesh-eating disease, life-threatening shock, and death.

How is MRSA diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider may:

  • Take your child's temperature and blood pressure

  • Check the sore and other parts of your child's body

  • Take samples of pus, tissue, blood, or sputum for culture and analysis

  • Do imaging tests if infection has spread to joints or bones

How is MRSA treated?

If your child has a mild MRSA skin infection, your healthcare provider will likely treat it by opening the infected sore and draining out the pus. Your child will likely also be given a prescription antibiotic ointment and possibly antibiotics by mouth. The healthcare provider will tell you how to keep the area clean and covered while it heals.

If the infection has spread to other parts of the body, the healthcare team may need to stabilize your child and treat the infection with IV antibiotics in the hospital. In some cases, such as infection of the joints, your child may need surgery to allow the infection to drain.

Your child may be prescribed antibiotics. Make sure your child takes every dose as directed by his or her provider. Many infections can be cured within 1 week, but MRSA may last longer. Make sure your child takes all the medicines as prescribed, even if he or she feels better. The provider will probably want to follow up with you to make sure the infection is healed.

If the infection returns frequently, your child’s provider may also recommend that your child take baths in diluted bleach water to prevent spreading. To do this, pour ½ cup of bleach into a bathtub that is ¼ full. Washing your child’s body with an antibacterial soap (chlorhexidine) may also be recommended. 

Another way to manage MRSA infection is to remove the bacteria from places where they often live and multiply, such as the nose. Your child’s healthcare provider may recommend certain medicines for your child's nose to kill any MRSA that live there.

If you follow all the recommended steps and notice that your child's infection is not healing or is getting worse, contact your child’s healthcare provider right away.

Can MRSA be prevented?

Although MRSA can be a serious infection, the steps to prevent it are simple and affordable. Here are tips on how you and your children can protect yourselves:

  • Wash hands often. Teach your children to wash their hands with soap and water, and do this yourself as well. This will help stop all kinds of infections from spreading, including MRSA. When soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

  • Use bandages when needed. Keep sores and cuts covered and clean until they heal.

  • Don't touch sores. Teach children not to touch or play with sores and scabs—theirs or other children's. Also, don't let children scratch their skin so much that they create tiny breaks in it. Use an anti-itch cream on some areas if needed. This is very important if they get chickenpox or another itchy disease.

  • Don't share personal items. Teach children not to share personal items such as towels, just as adults shouldn't share razors or other skin care items.

  • Be careful around hospitalized people. When visiting loved ones in the hospital or a residential care facility, practice good personal cleanliness (hygiene). Avoid touching catheters, ports, and IVs where they enter the skin. Wash your hands with soap after you leave the room. Teach children to do the same.

  • Teach prevention tips for athletes. Student athletes may need to take additional steps to prevent infection, including:

    • Shower immediately after competition or practice, especially after contact sports. Always shower before getting into a whirlpool with other athletes.

    • Keep equipment and supplies clean, and wash uniforms after each use.

    • Make sure sanitizing products are available for cleaning mats and other shared sports equipment. Check with coaches and other adults to be sure that these are used.

    • Don't compete in contact sports if you have a wound that is open or bleeding. Keep all cuts and scrapes covered.

Children could be at risk in crowded settings where infections can spread easily through contact. This includes day-care settings and team sports. Ask about the steps taken to prevent the spread of infection. These should include regularly disinfecting surfaces, toys, and mats.

If you or your child has a MRSA infection, tell others. Make sure that others in your household, school, and sports teams are aware of the infection. Then they can take steps to protect themselves and other children.

 

Medical Reviewers:

  • Lentnek, Arnold, MD
  • Sather, Rita, RN