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
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.
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
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.
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.