Children in the United States increasingly are developing serious head and neck infections with a drug-resistant type of “superbug” bacteria called MRSA, U.S. researchers said on Monday.
They said rates of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, are rising in children, and called on doctors to be more judicious in prescribing antibiotics.
“There is a nationwide increase in the prevalence of MRSA in children with head and neck infections that is alarming,” said Dr. Steven Sobol of Emory University, whose study appears in the Archives of Otalaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
MRSA previously had been a major concern only in hospitals, attacking patients who are already weakened by disease. But recent outbreaks in the community in otherwise healthy children have raised new concerns.
Sobol noted that other studies have shown increases in community-acquired infections of the skin and soft tissue, but some institutions have observed MRSA infections among children with head and neck infections, such as those involving the ear, nose, throat or sinuses.
To get a sense of the scope of the outbreak, the researchers studied 21,009 children ages 1 to 18 with head and neck infections caused by Staphylococcus aureus from 300 hospitals across the nation between 2001 and 2006.
While only 12 percent of the staph infections in 2001 showed signs of antibiotic resistance, that number more than doubled to 28 percent in just five years.
Nearly 60 percent of all MRSA infections of the head and neck among children in the study were acquired outside hospitals. Most were in children’s ears.
The researchers suggest that doctors conduct careful testing of head and neck infections, and prescribe antibiotics only when they will do some good.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 94,000 Americans get serious, invasive MRSA infections each year and 19,000 die.