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The Informed Parent

Don’t Push the Panic Button

by John H. Samson, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Mar. 17, 2008

Once again the front page of the papers was screaming an alarm. “Killer bacteria” was announced. The citizens were being ravaged. The physicians of America were helpless, or near so, to combat the onslaught.

Parents were justifiably panicked over the thought that their child may get a skin infection that could not be checked. Furthermore, their child may succumb to a horrible, devastating infection.

Heretofore, an article that appeared in PEDIATRIC NEWS, November 2007, authored by a pediatric infectious disease specialist put everything in perspective. Dr. Christopher Harrison quells the anxious concerns so well that the following are direct excerpts from his article.

“Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus has become the new disease of the moment, with alarming headlines almost daily this autumn about the “killer” bacterium. While of course MRSA is a real concern, we physicians can help by reassuring people that we have tools to deal with this problem.

The media frenzy began early in October 2007, with reports of MRSA-related deaths of high school athletes in at least three states, and numerous other cases of MRSA infection in school around the country.

Then, on Oct. 17 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on the 8,987 cases of invasive MRSA from July 2004 to December 2005 in nine sentinel sites associated with the Active Bacterial Core Surveillance system (JAMA 2007;298:1763-1804).

With headlines like CNN’s ‘Experts: Drug-Resistant Staph Deaths May Surpass AIDS Toll,’ it’s not surprising that our phone lines became overheated. We received four times the usual number of calls after that item appeared, from both patients and physicians worried about MRSA.

The fact is that humans have coexisted with S. aureus for a long time. More persistent MRSA strains appeared about 10 years ago. The majority of MRSA cases still present as common skin and soft-tissue infections that do not progress to life-threatening illness.”

He notes in the article that clindamycin covers 90% of the MRSA and vancomycin picks up the remaining 10%.

There is no question that this or other bacteria can cause generalized body infection. But, fortunately, that is the exception and not the rule. “The vast majority of cases occur in adults,” he writes. He quotes the statistics that “…among 5287 cases, just 134 occurred in patients under 17 years.”

It is his opinion that the use of the term “superbug” is a poor choice. I agree with the doctor and believe it is aimed at sensationalism. The original flesh eating bacteria was another bacteria altogether, and not this current MRSA type.

At the end of the article he eloquently states:

“We have multiple antibiotics that still effectively treat even the scariest strains. Other simple strategies of infection control and hygiene can reduce risks, too. Rarely if ever will these strategies include fumigating or shutting down schools. And let’s keep in mind: Panic is not a practical tool.”

I would like to add, panic is a practical tool to sell papers or garner viewers. But it has no place in the management of disease.

Finally, I would refer you to Dr. Harrison’s article that appeared in the PEDIATRIC NEWS, November 2007, page 16 under the title ID Consult, “MRSA PANIC UNWARRANTED.”  Thank you, Dr. Harrison for this much needed article.

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