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MRSA: The Worst Halloween Treat Ever

By Alice Bradley

So I was just sitting here in my bathrobe, enjoying my fifth candy bar, when someone knocked on the door, and who could it be but an antibiotic-resistant superbug! AAAIIIIEEEE!
MRSA is terrifying everyone, and if you haven’t heard of it, I’m jealous. Stop reading right now and get back to your cave. Anyway, MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and it made headlines just a couple of weeks ago, after the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the insidious bacteria kills more people in the U.S. each year than AIDS. Tragically, just a few days after this report, a 12-year-old boy died after being misdiagnosed (twice) and sent home. (Warning: one look at his sweet face may break your heart.) In the same week, a 17-year-old Virginian boy died. Stories of MRSA in schools have been clogging the airwaves and Internet tubes ever since. And panic has gripped the hearts of parents everywhere.
So: are these the End Times? Not so fast. Take that doom-prophesying sandwich board off and sit down. According to the people who know about these things, MRSA is cropping up in the news because of increased attention to the problem, not a sudden increase in cases. In fact, MRSA has been a problem for the last decade—it just didn’t make news.
Which is not to say that we shouldn’t be alarmed. MRSA is nasty, and it’s a huge problem. But the reality is that with prompt treatment, most patients recover quickly. And the vast majority of MRSA infections are related to time spent in a hospital or nursing home. Only ten percent of MRSA infections occur within a community.
So if we’re not going to freak out and keep our children inside for the next twenty years, what do we do? First of all, let’s all take a deep breath. There you go. Then let’s consider the wise counsel of professionals such as Nurse William, who tells us, first of all, to remember that the media loves to stir up panic, and second, wash your damn hands. (I will add: don’t misuse antibiotics, kids. Take the entire course that you’re prescribed, and don’t take them without a prescription.)
Also, make sure you know what MRSA looks like. The infection usually begins on the skin, and looks like a pimple, boil, or spider bite. This will quickly begin to resemble a sore, and may fill with pus. From what I’ve read of people’s experiences, I’m also betting it’s going to be painful. Do not try to attempt any amateur lancing, because this can cause it to spread, and also that’s gross. Get to a doctor, and ask to be tested specifically for MRSA.
Given that MRSA can rapidly become dangerous, increased vigilance for signs and symptoms can only have positive repurcussions. The earlier the infection is detected and treated, after all, the greater the chances of complete recovery. So try to ignore the mounting public hysteria, and remember: more handwashing, less hyperventilating. It’s going to be okay.

Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.


Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

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  • Zoot

    November 2, 2007 at 11:35 am

    I think the thing that has caught my attention the most is the stories of the older kids who contracted MRSA who just didn’t tell their parents about the point of infection because they didn’t think it was a big deal and it was someplace the parent wouldn’t normally see it (like under shirt sleeves in one story). My son is 12 and I definitely don’t inspect his body every day, so I had a talk with him about how important it is to let me know if he has a bite or a sore spot that is bothering him.
    (I think he’s probably rolling his eyes at me still, by the way.)

  • Mauigirl

    November 2, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    Great post, Alice – I agree, the media are definitely hyping this. I wrote a post on my medical blog about it and in my research discovered that MRSA was first discovered only a year or two after Methicillin was introduced – which brings the problem back to the early 60’s.

  • Lisa Milton

    November 2, 2007 at 10:48 pm

    I heard some news ad for a story about ‘the bacteria that’s killing school children across the country’ – I hate that kind of hysteria. (Of course, I am sad for these families, hype or no hype.) This story has been brewing for some time…
    Thanks for reminding us to do the obvious: take meds the way they’re prescribed and wash our hands. Simple and smart.

  • Anne

    November 3, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    Gosh, the Brits and the Irish have had MRSA for ages – welcome American cousins, we in Europe, we’re so sophisticated and beforehand with the world. There has been much hand wringing about more hand washing and hospitals or wings thereof are constantly being closed down because one of the superbugs has got loose. There was an excellent article in the LRB on MRSA which is the closest I ever came to understanding any of the detail. The key message I took away from it is never pick your nose. You may wish to peruse it here:

  • Robin

    November 4, 2007 at 1:27 am

    I’ve recently been diagnosed with this – officially – but now in hindsight it appears it may have been something I have been carrying for years. I’m SO mad. I wash my hands constantly, like to think of myself as a clean person, I am not an antibiotic freak and I don’t pick my nose (too much) – but I feel disgusting. My doctor tried to ease my anxiety over it by saying “MRSA is EVERYWHERE; why you are reacting to it this way is of concern though.” Feeling better about it? Not so much. Apparently he thinks there is something awry with my immune system. So he says clear this up and then we get to why it affects me worse than the other millions of people who come in contact with it everyday, yet they have no symptoms.
    I was diagnosed only a few weeks before all the media hype recently; prescribed Phisohex and Bactroban ointment, but now I think I do want an oral antibiotic. I’m scared.

  • ozma

    November 5, 2007 at 1:00 am

    Call me crazy Alice but from reading your recent posts I get the feeling you are kind of a worrier.
    It makes me smile, the way these posts reassure and terrify me at the same time. Or should I say: Attempt to reassure. I am reassurance-resistant.

  • MRSA Girl

    November 13, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    Please see my blog about MRSA. Thanks!