MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a type of
staph bacteria. Many
strains of staph bacteria are quite common, and most of us have staph bacteria living
harmlessly on our skin or in our noses.
Staph bacteria that enter the body through a cut, scrape, or rash can cause minor
skin infections. Most of these heal on their own if the wound is kept clean and bandaged,
but sometimes antibiotics are needed.
What makes the MRSA strain different from other staph bacteria, though, is its
resistance to most of the antibiotics that usually treat staph infections. (Methicillin
is an antibiotic, which is why the strain is called "methicillin-resistant.") When
bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, they are harder to kill. They become resistant
by changing in some way that affects the ability of the antibiotic to do its job.
taking antibiotics for things that they can't cure, like viruses
not taking antibiotics properly when they are needed (like not taking all the
medicine prescribed or taking another person's medicine that wasn't prescribed for
The good news is that MRSA infections are rare in kids. And if a healthy child
does get one, a doctor can treat it.
How Does MRSA Spread?
MRSA is not a new infection. The first case was reported in 1968. In the past,
MRSA usually affected people with weakened immune systems, such as those living in
long-term care facilities like nursing homes.
But now some otherwise healthy people who are not considered at risk for MRSA are
getting the infection. This is called community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) because
it affects people outside of hospitals and nursing homes.
Groups of kids who spend a lot of time together in close quarters (such as in schools,
camps, or college dorms) are most at risk. MRSA can spread through direct
contact with infected skin or by sharing personal items (towels, razors, etc.) that
have touched infected skin.
Sometimes, people can be "carriers" of MRSA, which means that the bacteria stay
on or in their bodies for days, weeks, or even years. They can spread it to others,
even if their skin looks normal. That's why washing
hands well and often is so important.
What Are the Signs of a MRSA Infection?
MRSA infections often develop around open sores, like cuts, scrapes, or bites.
But they also can happen on intact skin. Red, swollen, painful bumps appear that sometimes
weep fluid or pus. Some kids also develop a fever.
In more serious cases, the infection can spread to the blood, lungs, bones, joints,
or other parts of the body. MRSA also can cause infections like pneumonia.
Luckily, complications like these are very rare in healthy kids.
How Is a MRSA Infection Treated?
MRSA infections are treated differently from other staph infections. For example,
if a skin abscess is caused by MRSA, the doctor is more likely to have to drain the
pus from it to clear the infection.
Doctors may prescribe antibiotics to help treat a MRSA infection. Someone with
a more severe infection might need to be given IV antibiotics a hospital.
Can MRSA Infections Be Prevented?
These simple steps can help prevent MRSA infections:
Adults and kids should wash their hands well and often with soap and warm water
for at least 20 seconds. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers or wipes are OK if soap and
water aren't handy.
or broken skin clean and covered with a bandage.
Don't share razors, towels, uniforms, or other items that come into contact with
Shared sports equipment should be covered with a barrier (clothing or a towel)
to prevent skin from touching it. The equipment also should be cleaned before each
use with a disinfectant that works against MRSA.
To help prevent other bacteria from becoming resistant to antibiotics, it's important
for kids and adults to take antibiotics as prescribed. That means never giving your
child someone else's prescription or saving antibiotics for "next time."
Always give antibiotics as directed until the prescription is finished (unless
a doctor says it's OK to stop early). Germs that are allowed to hang around after
incomplete treatment of an infection are more likely to become resistant to antibiotics.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
Call the doctor if:
your child has an area of skin that is red, painful, swollen, and/or filled with
your child has an area of swollen, painful skin and also feels feverish or sick
skin infections seem to be passing from one family member to another (or among
students at school), or if two or more family members have skin infections at the