By Kathy Sena
If you’re like most parents, recent news reports about temporary school closings, and even deaths, from so-called “superbugs” have probably left you feeling a bit unnerved — and concerned about how to keep your child safe, whether at daycare, school or the football locker room. Here’s the info you need to protect your family.
What are These “SUPERBUGS”?
Several decades ago, a new strain of staph bacteria showed up in hospitals. It was resistant to the broad-spectrum antibiotics commonly used to zap it, according to the Mayo Clinic. Named methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), it was one of the first germs to defeat all but the most powerful drugs.
About 30 percent of the population carries regular staph bacteria on their skin or in their nose, according to Gregory Moran, M.D., a professor of medicine at UCLA School of Medicine in Los Angeles and a physician with the emergency-medicine and the infectious-diseases departments at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center. About 1 percent of the population carries the MRSA bacteria, he says.
Staph bacteria generally don’t cause a problem unless they enter the body through a cut or other wound, and even then they often cause only minor skin problems in healthy people. In young children, older adults and people who are ill or have weakened immune systems, ordinary staph infections can sometimes lead to MRSA infection.
Diagnosis and Treatment
MRSA infection can appear as pustules or boils that often are red, swollen, painful or have pus or other drainage, according to the CDC. These infections commonly occur at sites of skin trauma, such as cuts and abrasions, and areas of the body covered by hair (back of the neck, groin, buttock, armpit, beard area of men).
Almost all MRSA skin infections can be treated by drainage of pus — with or without an antibiotic — the CDC notes. More serious infections, such as pneumonia, bloodstream infections or bone infections, are very rare in healthy people who get MRSA skin infections.
Request that your doctor have any skin infection tested for MRSA before starting antibiotic therapy, advises the Mayo Clinic. Drugs that treat ordinary staph bacteria aren’t effective against MRSA — and using them when not necessary can lead to more-resistant bacteria.
How is MRSA Transmitted?
According to the CDC, MRSA is usually transmitted by direct skin-to-skin contact or contact with shared items or surfaces that have come into contact with someone else’s infection (towels, used bandages, etc.). MRSA infections can occur anywhere, but some settings have factors that make transmission easier, says the CDC. These factors are referred to as the 5 C’s:
-Frequent skin-to-skin contact
-Compromised skin (i.e., cuts or abrasions)
-Contaminated items and surfaces
-Lack of cleanliness
Locations where the 5 C’s are common include schools, dormitories, military barracks, households, correctional facilities and daycare centers.
Protecting Your Family
Careful hand washing remains your family’s best defense, says the Mayo Clinic. Scrub hands briskly for at least 15 seconds, then dry them with a disposable towel and use another towel to turn off the faucet. It’s helpful to carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer for times when you don’t have access to soap and water.
The CDC also suggests that teachers enforce hand hygiene with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers (if available) before students eat and after they use the restroom.
If you or a family member has any cuts or sores, wash towels and bed linens in hot water with bleach and dry them in a hot dryer, the CDC suggests. Wash gym and athletic clothes after each wearing.
How Should Schools Handle MRSA Infections?The decision to close a school for any communicable disease should be made by school officials in consultation with local and/or state public-health officials. However, in most cases, it’s not necessary to close schools because of an MRSA infection in a student, says the CDC. MRSA transmission can be prevented by simple measures such as hand hygiene and covering infections. “I’ve got two young kids, and I wouldn’t freak out about this,” says Moran. [“I wouldn’t pull my kids out of school if a student at the school was diagnosed with an MRSA infection.”]
If your child has an MRSA infection, talk with your school about its policy for notification of skin infections, the CDC advises. Unless directed by a physician, students with MRSA infections should not be excluded from attending school. Exclusion from school and sports activities should be reserved for those with wound drainage (“pus”) that cannot be covered and contained with a clean, dry bandage and for those who cannot maintain good personal hygiene, according to the CDC.
For more information on MRSA infection, visit the CDC’s website at cdc.gov.
Kathy Sena is a freelance journalist specializing in children’s health issues and is the mother of a 12-year-old son. Visit her blog at www.parenttalktoday.com.