Skip to main content

Sonoma Family Life Magazine

The Truth About Staph Infections Part II

Nov 06, 2007 12:00AM

The Truth About Staph Infections

Part II

Staph Infections vs. MRSA

“There are many types of staph bacteria and this one is a resistant strain of staph aureus. Not only is MRSA resistant [to many antibiotics] but it actually carries different genetic properties, specifically it releases a toxin causing pain in the skin and abscess formation. This new strain is known as ‘community-associated’ MRSA or CA-MRSA,” explains Dr. Gary Green, chief of infectious diseases at Kaiser in Santa Rosa.

“Even though MRSA is resistant, it doesn’t mean it’s resistant to everything. There are some great older oral antibiotics that are used for this strain,” says Dr. Green. “The CA-MRSA is more sensitive to more antibiotics and there are more antibiotic options. It is more dangerous [than regular staph infections] but it is also more treatable.”

Because MRSA is a new version of the regular staph infections, the symptoms are similar but appear more quickly and are more severe. “The MRSA often starts in what people think is a spider bite, with a fairly painful little bump or red spot on their skin, but it doesn’t go away like a spider bite, it gets worse,” says Leigh Hall, the deputy health officer of Sonoma County Public Health.

Look for sensitivity, redness and swelling, and little or no improvement within a few days. And lastly, follow your parental intuition. Get it checked out and if you’re not satisfied go for a second opinion.

“When an abscess is treated by their doctor, patients have to keep it covered because the material that drains from the abscess is very contagious,” advises Dr. Green. “Definitely complete the antibiotics that the doctor gave you. That is very important because if people don’t complete their antibiotics, this bacteria may become more resistant.”

Treating Staph Infections

“If you’ve got something that looks like a skin infection, the first thing to do is clean it well and put heat on it—soak it in warm water or put hot towels on it,” recommends Hall. “But if it doesn’t get better in a day or two, or if it gets worse, then you need to see a doctor, either to have any boils drained or for antibiotics.”

“If it feels hard under when you push around it and it’s painful, it needs to be drained so it will heal. They’re a lot worse if you wait,” says Dr. Coleman-Riese. “Call the doctor whenever your child has an area of red, irritated, or painful skin, especially if you see whitish pus-filled areas or your child has a fever or feels sick.”

If your child is on steroids like prednisone, parents should be aware that they work by suppressing the immune system. In effect, your child could have a raging, even life-threatening staph infection, but with a diminished immune system or no tell-tale fever to fight it.

One local mom discovered this the hard way. She brought her 18- year-old son in to get an odd sore checked before they were leaving for a family vacation. The first opinion was “Don’t worry. Call us when you get back if it hasn’t gone away.” The second opinion was “Go immediately to the emergency room, don't even go home to get clothes.”

Her son was in the hospital for 2 weeks, then at home with a directto- the-heart IV for nearly a month. He was indeed very sick, but had no fever; the prednisone he was on for another condition had prevented his body from fighting the staph bacteria. With staph infections, don’t hesitate to get a second opinion.

In addition, Dr. Dahmen says, if there are repeated staph infections in the same household, “there is something called a ‘staph carrier’ where someone in the family can be carrying [the bacteria without symptoms] and it can be a recurring problem.” The best step is to talk to your doctor and see whether a culture of the members of your family is necessary. Also, call the doctor if skin infections seem to be passing from one family member to another or if two or more family members have skin infections simultaneously.

“Once there’s no more pus from the abscess,” says Dr. Coleman- Riese, “we have the whole family shower with a product called Hibiclens, and put a prescription antibacterial up their nose. Everyone in the family does this all at the same time.”

MRSA is definitely something that parents need to be aware of and be diligent in preventing and treating the infections. Remember to:

  • Teach everybody in your family to wash hands often.
  • Keep any openings in the skin clean and covered.
  • Consider that the “spider bite” might be MRSA staph.
  • See the doctor right away.
  • Complete the antibiotic.
  • Don’t share towels.
  • Wash hands. Wash hands. Wash hands.

If you never have to deal with a staph infection in your family, consider yourself lucky. But if you do, now you know what to look for to keep it from getting worse.

Read Part I here.