RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—MRSA, a potentially severe drug-resistant bacterium, used to lurk in hospital settings, and it mostly infected patients. However, in recent years more and more people are being sickened by a slightly different community strain, found in dust and even on our own bodies. And children are among the most hard-hit by the infection, which can spread from the skin and into the lungs and even bone. A new study published online this month in the journal Pediatrics has found that the number of MRSA cases in children has skyrocketed in the last decade. "This study shows how rapidly it's becoming a problem and taking us by surprise because we don't have good surveillance systems," says Maryn McKenna, author of Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA (Free Press, 2010).
THE DETAILS: Researchers looked at a database of children's hospitals to figure out the rate of occurrence of Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA and the other form of the bacterium that is still susceptible to methicilin drugs) infections. The number of MRSA cases increased tenfold over the 10-year period, while the number of other cases dropped. Researchers are concerned with the treatments doctors are using because these may help promote the bacterium's ability to resist other drugs, too.
WHAT IT MEANS: MRSA is all around us. Thanks to wind blowing it off of manure lagoon pits on industrial farms, among other sources, it's in been found in dust that we could track into our houses, and in groundwater, ocean water, and beach sand. And McKenna says that about 30 percent of us carry the germ on our bodies. Researchers don't yet know why some people live healthy lives despite carrying MRSA, while others get sick, sometimes developing spider-bite-like boils and even bone infections. And while McKenna says crowded conditions (as in our prisons) make spreading MRSA easier, and contact sports also seem to cause a spike in cases, so it's best for everyone to make long- and short-term efforts to lower the risk of contracting MRSA.