MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a type of staph bacteria. Many strains of staph bacteria are quite common, and most of us have staph bacteria living harmlessly on our skin or in our noses.
Staph bacteria that enter the body through a cut, scrape, or rash can cause minor skin infections. Most of these heal on their own if the wound is kept clean and bandaged, but sometimes antibiotics are needed.
What makes the MRSA strain different from other staph bacteria, though, is its resistance to most of the antibiotics that usually treat staph infections. (Methicillin is an antibiotic, which is why the strain is called "methicillin-resistant.") When bacteria are resistant to antibiotics, they are harder to kill. They become resistant by changing in some way that affects the ability of the antibiotic to do its job.
The bacterial changes that lead to resistance can be caused by improper use of antibiotics, such as:
The good news is that MRSA infections are rare in kids. And if a healthy child does get one, a doctor can treat it.
MRSA is not a new infection. The first case was reported in 1968. In the past, MRSA usually affected people with weakened immune systems, such as those living in long-term care facilities like nursing homes.
But now some otherwise healthy people who are not considered at risk for MRSA are getting the infection. This is called community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA) because it affects people outside of hospitals and nursing homes.
Groups of kids who spend a lot of time together in close quarters (such as in schools, camps, or college dorms) are most at risk. MRSA can spread through direct contact with infected skin or by sharing personal items (towels, razors, etc.) that have touched infected skin.
Sometimes, people can be "carriers" of MRSA, which means that the bacteria stay on or in their bodies for days, weeks, or even years. They can spread it to others, even if their skin looks normal. That's why washing hands well and often is so important.
MRSA infections often develop around open sores, like cuts, scrapes, or bites. But they also can happen on intact skin. Red, swollen, painful bumps appear that sometimes weep fluid or pus. Some kids also develop a fever.
In more serious cases, the infection can spread to the blood, lungs, bones, joints, or other parts of the body. MRSA also can cause infections like pneumonia. Luckily, complications like these are very rare in healthy kids.
MRSA infections need different medicines and treatments than other staph infections do. For example, if a skin abscess is caused by MRSA, the doctor is more likely to have to drain the pus from it in order to clear the infection.
Doctors may prescribe antibiotics to help treat a MRSA infection. More severe infections might need IV antibiotics, given in a hospital.
MRSA may sound scarry because of its resistance to some antibiotics. But these simple steps can help prevent MRSA infections:
To help prevent other bacteria from becoming resistant to antibiotics, it's important for kids and adults to take antibiotics as prescribed. That means never giving your child someone else's prescription or saving antibiotics "for next time."
Always give antibiotics in the full amount until the prescription is finished (unless a doctor says it's OK to stop early). Germs that are allowed to hang around after incomplete treatment of an infection are more likely to become resistant to antibiotics.
Call the doctor if:
Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD
Date reviewed: June 2014
|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) The CDC (the national public health institute of the United States) promotes health and quality of life by preventing and controlling disease, injury, and disability.|
|Cellulitis Cellulitis is an infection of the skin and underlying tissues that can affect any area of the body. It begins in an area of broken skin, like a cut or scratch.|
|Cellulitis Cellulitis is a skin infection that involves areas of tissue just below the skin's surface. It can affect any part of the body, but it's most common on exposed areas, such as the face, arms, or lower legs.|
|Cellulitis Cellulitis is a serious infection that can be mistaken for a bruise, scrape, or insect bite. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|What Are Germs? Germs are the microscopic bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa that can cause disease. With a little prevention, you can keep harmful germs out of your family's way.|
|The Danger of Antibiotic Overuse When you bring your child to the doctor for a cold or flu, do you automatically expect a prescription for antibiotics? Here's why taking antibiotics too often or for the wrong reason can do more harm than good.|
|Dealing With Cuts and Wounds Most cuts can be safely treated at home, but deep cuts and certain other injuries require medical treatment. Find out what to do by reading this printable instruction sheet.|
|Abscess An area of infected tissue is called an abscess. Find out how to spot a skin abscess and when to call the doctor.|
|Dealing With Cuts Find out how to handle minor cuts at home - and when to seek professional treatment.|
|Abscess An abscess is a sign of an infection, usually on the skin. Find out what to do if your child develops one.|
|Staph Infections Staph bacteria can live harmlessly on many skin surfaces. But the bacteria can get into wounds and cause an infection. Get the details in this article for teens.|
|Staph Infections When skin is punctured or broken for any reason, staph bacteria can enter the wound and cause an infection. But good hygiene can prevent many staph infections. Learn more.|
|First Aid: Skin Infections Skin infections are common during childhood. Here's what to do if your child has a skin infection.|
|MRSA MRSA is a type of bacteria that the usual antibiotics can't tackle anymore. The good news is that there are some simple ways to protect yourself from being infected. Find out how.|
|Checking Out Cuts, Scratches, and Abrasions If you're wearing a bandage right now, chances are you have a cut, scratch, or abrasion. Find out more about them in this article for kids.|
|Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease This common illness spreads easily in daycare centers and other places where young kids congregate. Learn how to protect your child.|
|Impetigo Impetigo is a contagious skin infection that usually produces blisters or sores on the face, neck, hands, and diaper area. It's one of the most common skin infections among kids.|
|Impetigo Impetigo is a skin infection caused by fairly common bacteria. Read this article to learn how to recognize it and what to do about it.|
|Impetigo Impetigo is a strange-sounding word that might be new to you. It's an infection of the skin caused by bacteria. Read this article to learn more about it.|
|Abscess People can get abscesses on the skin, under the skin, in a tooth, or even inside the body. Most abscesses are caused by infection, so it can help to know what to do. Find out in this article for teens.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.