Childhood MRSA infection rate soars

Incidence of the “hospital superbug” MRSA in children has risen at an alarming rate in the last 15 years, new research published today suggests.

While many recent reports have acknowledged the growing problem of MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), this is the first conducted into infections of children under 15 – and it found that incidence rose 19-fold between 1990 and 2001.

The study, carried out by the Health Protection Agency and St George’s Hospital in London, has been published in the journal, “Archives of Disease in Childhood”.

The researchers are now calling for a review of risk factors. The report found that, compared to just four cases reported in 1990, there were 77 in 2001.

53 per cent of childhood MRSA cases occur in infants aged under one year.

Nonetheless, despite the dramatic acceleration, the rate of incidence for children remains considerably lower than that seen in adults.

Health Minister John Hutton told BBC Radio Four’s “Today” programme this morning, “It is a concern and obviously we want to do all that we can to improve our performance and bear down on preventable rates of infection.

“The Chief Medical Officer is working with doctors and nurses at every level of the service to try and get on top of this problem.”

MRSA is a serious infection in itself insofar as it can cause bacteriaemia, but its incidence in children is particularly disturbing. The “superbug” is resistant to many antiobiotics, and it is feared that it could render treatments for other conditions useless.

While the infection remains largely confined to hospitals in the UK, evidence from the US suggests that up to 60 per cent of childhood MRSA cases in that country are acquired in the community.