What is MRSA?

Dear Mamas,

I recently heard that a little boy in my son’s preschool class has a skin infection with MRSA. Another mom said it started out as a little pimple on his knee, but now it’s spread and is pretty serious.

Is it true that antibiotics don’t work anymore for this kind of infection? If so, how can they treat it? Should I worry that my son may have been in contact with this little boy and might be exposed? Should I take him to be checked?

The teacher doesn’t seem terribly concerned, and I went to the preschool director to ask about it and she hadn’t even heard. I just don’t know how crazy to get about this! I need a reality check.



Hi Jillian, and thank you for the question.

MRSA is an acronym for methicillin-resistant staph aureus (methicillin is the antibiotic that used to be standard against staph).  Staph bacteria are common on   skin and inside noses.

In the past staph was mostly just the culprit in minor skin infections, and these could be treated effectively with antibiotics. But in recent years there has been a big increase in antibiotic-resistant strains such as MRSA, and those are harder to treat.

You may have been alarmed by the media attention given to MRSA, and you’re right to pay attention but there’s no need to panic. The first thing to do is confirm the truth of what you’ve heard. Rumors can spread like wildfire in a preschool setting, and I could tell you some doozies. Even if the information you heard is correct, unless your son is showing symptoms there’s no need for him to be seen by the doc.

The type of MRSA your son’s classmate likely has is called community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA), and comes from close contact with another child or adult who’s infected. Young children in the classroom or on the playground are particularly likely to have skin-to-skin contact along with scrapes or bug bites — potential entryways for infection.

The best way to avoid MRSA, as well as other infections, is thorough, frequent hand washing and good general hygiene. Encourage your little guy to wash hands whenever possible at school and be sure and wash up when he gets home. Keep any scrapes or bites clean and covered. When in doubt use hand sanitizer or wipes if soap and water aren’t available.

Symptoms usually include red, oozing areas on the skin which can begin in a scratch or bump. Knees are common spots in kids because they’re so often scraped in active play. The infection can also spread to nearby skin. There may be fever along with it, and children may feel sick and punky. If skin infections have recently been passed between friends or family (in your case, little guy’s school buddy) pay extra attention to breaks or redness in the skin and have anything suspicious checked out.

Treatment for MRSA includes antibiotics shown to be effective for this strain and close monitoring of the wound. Sometimes drainage is necessary, and the doctor will outline strict guidelines for bandage changes. Unless a doctor says otherwise, children can continue attending school, even with a MRSA infection. The infected skin must be kept covered and contained with a clean, dry bandage.

From what you describe your son is not at significant risk. Keep an eye on any cuts or scratches and get serious about hand washing. Use antibacterials as needed. One last suggestion — you may want to alert your preschool and recommend they sent a note out to other families in the class with a ‘heads up’ and prevention tips.

Stay well!

~ The Mamas

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.

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