The most dangerous skin infection is MRSA, Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. MRSA is a type of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria that has become resistant to many antibiotics that are similar to penicillin. This infection can be difficult to treat and serious, even deadly, so it's very important to recognize it, and to practice prevention. MRSA is sometimes referred to as a "staph infection."
Dr. Sue Hubbard, Pediatrician and Medical Editor of The Kid's Doctor website, explains how a MRSA infection can be easily misinterpreted as a spider bite, or a simple boil.
"These skin infections present as a boil, or cellulitis (infection of the skin and soft tissues), or impetigo, or other infections related to the skin. Staph infections often appear quickly, -almost overnight- when a parent or child may notice a bump that may resemble a bite. But in this case this "bite" rapidly reddens and becomes tender and warm to the touch."
"In reality, all of those "spider bites" are often due to a community acquired MRSA (methicillin resistant Staph Aureus) infection of the skin and soft tissue. The frequency of these infections continues and parents should be aware of the fact that an unusual "bite" that is becoming more tender, has surrounding redness (erythema), feels warm to the touch and may have the appearance of a large pimple or boil needs, to be examined."
What does MRSA look like?
Because MRSA is a specific type of staph infection, symptoms of staph and symptoms of MRSA share many of the same signs or characteristics. However, MRSA superbug symptoms differ from traditional staph infection symptoms in that MRSA bacteria have learned to adapt to most common antibiotics, making them more virulent.
The most common visible MRSA symptoms are:
Bumps, pimple-like lumps, or blisters on the skin (these are also the symptoms of a Staph aureus infection in general). Lumps on the skin are often accompanied by swelling and reddening of the surrounding skin area. The center of the lump often has a white, or yellow pus filled head, which sometimes drains on its own.
The lumps are often tender, itchy and warm to the touch and can become deep sores with increasing pain and swelling if left unchecked. The color of the surrounding skin area is often red to purple and may begin to spread as the infection progresses.
Other symptoms, such as fever, difficulty breathing, chills, or chest pain, would typically be signs of a more serious MRSA infection that has spread beyond your child's skin and to his blood, lungs, or other part of his body. This would usually require immediate medical attention.
Staph infections can show up anywhere on the body, but are most commonly found in areas where clothing friction and irritation occur, such as the legs, buttocks and shaving areas. They also develop in sweaty areas like the armpits, neck, face, groin and feet.
The only way to tell if your child has MRSA is for your doctor to do a culture on the drainage from the site of the infection. This can be helpful in case your child's infection doesn't get better, if he or she keeps getting skin infections over and over, or if other family members get a skin infection too. Since it can take several days to get the results from an MRSA culture, your pediatrician will likely treat your child with an antibiotic that works against MRSA if he or she suspects this resistant bacteria.
The Kids Doctor website has addressed MRSA infections in previous posts, but because this type of staph infection can become a serious threat to a child so quickly, it's a good idea to keep updated on preventative measures.
- Teach your child to wash hands often with soap and water for at least 15 seconds. This includes after playing with pets or other children.
- Have your child use alcohol-based hand sanitizers or wipes when washing isn't possible.
- Teach your child not to share towels, uniforms, or other items that come into contact with bare skin.
- Keep cuts or broken skin clean and covered with dry bandages until healed.
- Encourage your child to clean shared sports equipment with antiseptic solution before each use. Or, he or she can use a towel as a barrier between skin and equipment.
- If your child has dry skin, eczema, or a skin condition, use creams and moisturizers as directed by the doctor.
- Protect against sunburn and bug bites.
Remember: although MRSA can show up anywhere, it is more likely when these "Five Cs" are present: crowding, contact between skin, compromised skin (cuts or scrapes), contaminated items, lacking in cleanliness.
To help prevent the spread of MRSA infection:
- Change any bandages often. Do it before you can see any drainage through the bandage.
- Wear gloves while cleaning a wound or changing bandages.
- Carefully dispose of used bandages.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after you finish or use an alcohol-based sanitizer.
- Clean surfaces with detergent-based cleaners or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered disinfectants.
- Use separate hand towels, washcloths, and towels.
- Encourage showers instead of baths.
A new school year brings the promise of new adventures in learning and opportunities in a wide variety of sports programs. Practicing good hygiene can also help make it a safe one.