Kids Also at Risk for Antibiotic-Resistant MRSA Infections

I have a friend who recently acquired a MRSA infection….in a karate studio! MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus gives rise to antibiotic-resistant staph infections that are very difficult to get rid of and which are potentially dangerous, according to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

If you’ve heard of MRSA you probably picture an infection picked up by an elderly person in hospital. While the vast majority of MRSA infections are among older, hospitalized patients, rates of community-acquired MRSA (CA-MRSA) have been on the rise for over the past decade, and do not appear likely to come down any time soon. MRSA infections in the community generally start with skin infections and involve younger people prone to cuts – in places with lots of interpersonal contact, such as athletic facilities, dormitories, military barracks, and daycare centers.

Although my friend is an adult, I got concerned about the MRSA risk for the rough and tumble set because so many kids are involved in karate and other contact sports, including my 9-year old son. And sure enough – just a tiny bit of research revealed the risk young kids and teens now face. Recent data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality showed a doubling over the past decade in children’s hospital admissions due to severe skin infections, with MRSA the major culprit. These skin infections now rank as the seventh most common reason for childhood hospitalization, up from 13th in 2000 (see this New York Times article for more detail). Furthermore, the CDC indicates that athletes – including school-aged athletes – are particularly at risk, because of their tendency to receive cuts and scrapes, and the person-to-person contact and often-unhygienic conditions of locker rooms. Risk of skin infections is greatest in high-contact sports such as wrestling, football and rugby, though MRSA infections have been connected to many other sports, including soccer, basketball, volleyball, rowing, and baseball (click for CDC guidance for athletes and coaches).

Thankfully, with prompt, effective treatment most MRSA skin infections do not lead to serious complications. But they can be very difficult to get rid of – and without proper treatment, can spread within the body or to other people. Indeed, my friend’s MRSA infection ended up spreading from the cut in her foot to her lungs – which resulted in problematic respiratory symptoms and literally months of unpleasant treatment with multiple high-strength antibiotics. And it’s important to note that severe MRSA infections can lead to death.

According to the CDC, eradicating MRSA in both healthcare and community settings is a high public health priority. Prevention is the best way to achieve this goal, including practices such as:

  • Good hand washing and general hygiene before, during and after exercise and sports activities
  • Never sharing towels, razors, uniforms or sports equipment
  • Ensuring that cuts and scrapes are kept covered until they are fully healed

Check out the CDC website for more guidance on preventing MRSA infection.

However, if a member of your family does acquire a skin infection, remember that it could be caused by MRSA, especially if it is a pustule or boil or has any of these characteristics:

  • Red
  • Swollen
  • Painful
  • Warm to the touch
  • Full of pus or other drainage
  • Accompanied by a fever

If you suspect that an infection may be MRSA, do not attempt to treat it yourself – including draining or applying disinfectant, as this can just spread the infection. Just cover the infected area, take steps to prevent spread in your family, and contact your healthcare provider. And be sure that any prescribed course of antibiotics is fully completed, since MRSA is so difficult to eliminate. The CDC website also provides a range of educational materials for families, athletes and communities that you may find useful in identifying and dealing with a MRSA infection.

About the Author

Audra is an experienced pharmaceutical marketing professional, aspiring writer, and mother of Elliott, a high-spirited twenty-year old. Frequently tired but never bored, she has a strong interest in public health fostered by numerous years implementing global oncology education programs as well as by her twenty-year crazy (wild? amazing?) adventure in parenting. She recently earned a Masters in Public Health to augment her expertise in health policy and health promotion. Audra is a founding member of the PedSafe Team


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