NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Kids who get lots of antibiotics from their doctors are more likely to harbor the MRSA superbug, although it’s still rare, a new study of British youngsters has found.
While that doesn’t prove the drugs are to blame for the antibiotic-resistant bacterium, it would make biological sense, researchers say.
“This just provides more evidence to support redoubling our efforts to decrease antibiotic use,” Dr. Daniel J. Diekema, who was not involved in the new work, told Reuters Health.
MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, first arrived in the U.S. in the 1960s. But it wasn’t until 1980, when it infected a burn victim in a Seattle hospital and caused a devastating outbreak, that doctors realized how serious the situation really was.
It is estimated that in 2005, the bug caused severe infections in nearly 95,000 Americans and killed more than 18,500 of them.
While infections caught in hospitals have been declining in recent years, there is less certainty about those contracted outside hospitals — so-called community-acquired MRSA.
“It remains a major public health problem, but the dramatic increase that we saw during the last decade seems to have leveled off in many areas and may be decreasing in some,” said Diekema, an expert in infectious diseases at the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
To get a better idea about how MRSA infections arise outside of hospitals, Canadian researchers looked at data from more than 400 doctors’ offices in the UK.
They’d already shown that adults with several antibiotic prescriptions were more likely to harbor MRSA later on, so this time they focused on kids who’d gotten the diagnosis between 1994 and 2007.
There were 4.5 MRSA cases per 100,000 children every year in the UK, although it wasn’t clear from the data whether the children had active infections or just carried the bacteria on their skin, where they are harmless.
“In general, only a minority of people who carry MRSA go on to become infected,” Diekema explained.
Of 297 children who tested positive for MRSA, more