Infants, especially those in intensive care units, are vulnerable to staph infections. Applying an ointment may help them.

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Researchers applied an ointment called mupirocin to infants at several hospitals. Getty Images

Newborns are vulnerable to all types of infections, and some are life-threatening.

Researchers now say they may have come up with a simple solution that can significantly reduce the risk.

Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health conducted a clinical trial involving several hospitals.

The study tested how using a topical antibiotic ointment could prevent babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) from developing Staphylococcus (staph) bacteria infections.

A topical antibiotic called mupirocin was applied to the nasal passages and skin of these babies for five days.

Afterward, 90 percent of the treated newborns tested negative for the bacteria, suggesting the ointment may be an effective way to prevent infection by removing the germ that causes it.

This treatment reduced exposure to staph bacteria that are easily treated by commonly used antibiotics as well as those that aren’t easily treated.

“Because there’s such a problem with staph infections in babies, it’s important to understand how to prevent and treat them,” said C. Buddy Creech, MD, MPH, an author of the study and a spokesperson for the Infectious Disease Society of America.

Staphylococcus (staph) bacteria are a type of bacteria typically found in the nose and on the skin.

Most of the time, the bacteria present no problems or just cause minor infections.

But staph infections can cause serious health issues if the bacteria travel deeper into the bloodstream, bones, or major organs.

“Infection can vary from simple skin infections to serious life-threatening blood, bone-joint, or heart infections,” said Dr. Antonio Arrieta, a clinical professor in the University of California-Irvine department of pediatrics and division chief of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Orange County in California.

Toxic shock syndrome is another life-threatening condition that can result from poisons produced by some strains of these bacteria. Along with fever, toxic shock syndrome can cause mental confusion, muscle ache, stomach pain, and vomiting.

Hospital personnel may often unknowingly carry staph bacteria, which can be easily transmitted to an infant if employees don’t follow proper hygiene rules.

This can happen during medical procedures or by contaminated medical equipment such as catheters or ventilators.

When the bacteria enter a newborn’s bloodstream or airway, the baby can become seriously ill.

Common symptoms of staph infection in babies include:

  • high or low body temperature
  • unusually fast or slow heartbeat
  • lethargy and irritability
  • vomiting
  • skin lesions

While this study didn’t prove that using mupirocin actually prevented the bacterial infections, Creech said the study is valuable because the infants tested negative for staph infections after treatment.

“Although the study doesn’t prove that the antibiotic ointment prevents infection, what it does allow us to do is make sure that it’s safe and effective to eliminate SA from the skin and nasal passages,” he said. “If infants aren’t
carrying the germ, it’s harder to become infected.”

Staph infection is a major health concern among medical professionals who care for infants.

A 2015 study in JAMA Pediatrics estimated that about 5,000 babies a year will develop severe staph infections. Around 10 percent of those children will die.

Staph infections are also becoming increasingly resistant to the drugs used to treat them, especially an antibiotic called methicillin.

According to Creech, there have been staph infections throughout human history.

The bacteria colonizes about a third of all humans at any given time.

“Over the course of many weeks or months, 80 percent of us will have staph in our nose or our skin; so there’s really nothing to prevent colonization in babies or adults whose immune systems are compromised or who have had recent surgery,” Creech said.

Arrieta said there is one sure way to minimize the risk of infection.

“The best way to prevent SA in newborns in the hospital is careful hand washing before and after all contact with the babies,” he said.

Newborns are especially vulnerable to infection by a type of germ called Staphylococcus aureus.

Staph is a bacterium that is present in most people’s noses and skin. It can be life-threatening, especially when it causes infections in newborns.

A new study has found that using a topical antibiotic called mupirocin will significantly reduce the amount of staph bacteria in the noses and on the skin of newborns.

While some staph is antibiotic-resistant, even the type that responds to antibiotics can be dangerous.

It’s important to wash hands carefully to prevent transmission of the germ and to tell healthcare providers if there is a history of skin infections so they can take precautions to reduce the risk of a staph infection occurring.