Web Zap*Germs Archive

April 08, 2005

MRSA Superbug Entering General Population & Replacing "Ordinary" Staph Germs

US News has a good overview article reporting US doctors' confirmation of what their UK colleagues have known for months: antibiotic-resistant staph germs (MRSA) are being found in the general population, not just in hospitals or "closed communities" like prisons or sports teams.

In fact, according to a recent study reported in Science Daily, MRSA infections are beginning to outnumber "normal" staph infections at Vanderbilt's hospital ER. What's more, some children are carrying the MRSA bacteria in their bodies, without showing symptoms.

MRSA and other staph infections usually start on the skin, but can enter the body through tiny cuts. Once MRSA enters the bloodstream, the bacteria can cause devastating infections - including the dreaded "flesh-eating" (necrotizing) kind. MRSA infections don't usually look dangerous at the beginning, leading people not to seek medical help until a serious infection is underway.

"The problem with [MRSA] is that it seems to behave differently [from typical staph bacteria], with a tendency to cause skin abscesses and pneumonia," said Buddy Creech, M.D., lead investigator on the Vanderbilt study.

Trying to understand the spread of MRSA, Creech and colleagues visited a large pediatric practice in Nashville,and the Vanderbilt Children's Hospital Outpatient Pediatric Clinic, to swab the noses of 500 otherwise healthy children to collect samples.

What Creech and colleagues discovered was that 9.2 percent of the children from this sampling were positive for MRSA in their noses. "That's up dramatically from three years ago when only 1 percent had MRSA," he said.

Creech noted that non-hospital-related MRSA (so-called "community-acquired," or "CA-MRSA") is no longer isolated to closed communities. "These are young healthy children who are coming in for well-child visits and they have the resistant organisms in their noses."

How the "superbug" bacteria has entered the general population - often without causing infections but being carried by unsuspecting "hosts" - is a mystery that needs solving.

"This study tells us there are a lot of children walking around with MRSA who are healthy, but we are also seeing this germ cause infections," Creech said. "What we are trying to understand is why some children go on to develop a serious infection and others don't."

This tells me that the day is past when parents could ignore skinned knees and elbows, or let their kids run around with snot dripping down their noses. And what about that other kid's snot - your rug rat could pick up not just a cold, but perhaps a life-threatening infection from a drippy playmate.

If your little ones are in daycare, ask the person in charge to describe their sick-child policy and their procedures for disinfecting toys, etc. If their answers are unsatisfactory, it's time to educate them, or perhaps time to take your precious children elsewhere (like home?).


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