Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a skin infection caused by a type of staph bacteria. It’s part of a class of “superbugs” and can’t be treated with the usual antibiotics such as penicillin or amoxicillin. While MRSA used to be rare, it’s becoming more common, especially among children.
Kids don’t tend to have the same “personal space bubble” as adults. They also play in close quarters and aren’t usually afraid to roll on the floor, rub against each other when playing, and share items like towels and toys. This makes children more prone to the spread of MRSA.
If your child does have a MRSA infection, treatments are available. It’s important to treat the infection as quickly as possible to keep the bacteria from spreading to others.
You’ll also want to stop it from spreading to your child’s bloodstream, where a more serious infection can occur.
What are the symptoms of MRSA in children?
Plenty of bacteria live naturally on your skin. They often don’t cause a problem until they’re introduced into the body. When a child has a cut, sore, or scrape, this provides the perfect entry point for MRSA bacteria. The bacteria can start to multiply and cause MRSA infection symptoms.
Many people mistake a MRSA infection for a spider bite. But there are some symptoms that could indicate the infection is MRSA, not an insect bite.
- appears at a location where a child had a cut or broken skin
- bump or lump that’s swollen and hard to the touch
- pain at the site of the bump
- pus that drains from the site
- warmth at the area of the bump and surrounding it
If a parent isn’t sure what the lesion is, your pediatrician can help diagnose MRSA.
When to see a doctor
Your child’s pediatrician should treat MRSA. They can carefully drain a MRSA boil, if necessary. A parent shouldn’t try to drain the lesion at home. Doing so could make the infection worse and easier to spread.
Usually, MRSA isn’t a medical emergency. But there are some cases when a parent should seek immediate medical attention. These include:
- severe headache
When a parent does notice a MRSA infection, they should make an appointment with their child’s pediatrician as soon as possible.
How do doctors treat
MRSA infections can spread to the blood and lungs, causing conditions including pneumonia. For this reason, it’s important to seek medical treatments for a child. Doctors will usually prescribe a combination of topical and oral antibiotics.
While penicillin and amoxicillin won’t treat MRSA, other antibiotics can. Examples include trimethoprim and sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim) and clindamycin (Cleocin).
A doctor may prescribe one of these antibiotics, plus rifampin, another antibiotic type, depending on the severity of the infection. If a child has had MRSA more than once, both antibiotics may be prescribed.
Even if the MRSA lesion starts to look better, it’s important to take the full course of antibiotics. This ensures that as many bacteria are destroyed as possible. It also reduces the likelihood that a child will become resistant to antibiotics, which would make them less effective.
In addition to oral antibiotics, a doctor may prescribe a topical antibiotic ointment. This is usually mupirocin (Bactroban). Bactroban is applied on the inner parts of the nose to reduce the amount of MRSA.
Doctors often recommend all family members in a household use the ointment, too. It can be applied to a cotton swab, then swabbed inside the nostril twice a day for at least five days.
Bactroban also can be applied directly to the affected lesion. After cleaning and patting dry the area, the ointment can be applied with a cotton swab.
How can you treat MRSA at home?
Many of the same steps that help treat MRSA also prevent it. If a child has MRSA, chances are it has “colonized” or multiplied in larger numbers on the skin. It’s also possibly spread on objects in the home.
The goal for at-home treatments is to decolonize MRSA. When the amount of bacteria is reduced, the potential for reinfection goes down.
Steps to take to decolonize MRSA bacteria include:
- Keeping a child’s fingernails cut short. This prevents scrapes and scratches. It also stops bacteria from building up under the nails.
- Wash clothing items and personal items like towels and washcloths after each use.
- Wash bed linens at least once per week in hot water. Ideally, the water would be hotter than 160°F (71°C). Dry sheets on the warmest setting possible.
- Bathe a child in chlorhexidine (HIBICLENS) soap or bath water with a small amount of liquid bleach, usually about 1 teaspoon for every gallon of bathwater. Both of these interventions can be used to rid the skin of MRSA. Note: Both of these can be very drying to the skin and shouldn’t be used on children with eczema or already dry skin.
- Wash cuts, scrapes, and sores with a gentle antibacterial soap. Keep these open areas covered with clean, dry bandages until the site has healed.
It’s also important to teach a child not to share personal care items with others, including:
Getting rid of MRSA doesn’t just involve treating the affected child. Unfortunately, MRSA is easily passed to family members. Reduce the risk of the infection coming back by keeping personal care items separate and practicing good hygiene.