School is back in full swing and there are lots of illnesses going around. Today I want to talk about a common misconception about your child’s health. Almost every day, I see a patient who claims they have a spider bite.
Luckily, spider bites are exceedingly rare. The most common explanation of a swollen, red area that’s tender on the skin is a skin infection.
One of the more frequent culprits is a bacteria named Staphylococcus aureus, often referred to simply as “staph,” that is carried on the skin and in the nose of healthy people. It’s estimated that between 30-60% of all people have “staph” on their skin. But the real problem is the emergence of a “staph” bacteria called MRSA that is resistant to penicillin-based antibiotics. Current studies show that somewhere between 10-50% of all people have this MRSA on their skin and in their nose, and this is scary business.
It’s important to differentiate between hospital-acquired MRSA and community-acquired MRSA (or CA-MRSA). The hospital acquired type is very aggressive and occurs in people recently hospitalized, in nursing homes, and/or healthcare workers. The CA-MRSA can occur in anyone! The CA-MRSA can be very aggressive as well, but mainly causes skin infections that may look like a pimple or boil and can be red, swollen, painful, or have pus or other drainage. The most common ways of spreading CA-MRSA occurs in people that have close contact with someone who has a history of boils or abscesses and amongst athletes who share equipment. Those with a weakened immune system are at a greater risk of having an invasive disease as well.
I have only seen one actual spider bite in my pediatric career; however, I have seen thousands of MRSA infections! We now routinely see 5-10 cases per week and sometimes 4-6 cases per day during the spring and summer! Let’s talk about some ways to protect your child and family.
You can protect yourself from infections by practicing good hygiene (i.e., keeping your hands clean by washing with soap and water and showering after working out); covering any open skin area such as abrasions or cuts with a clean dry bandage; avoiding sharing personal items such as towels or razors; using a barrier (e.g., clothing or a towel) between your skin and shared workout equipment; and wiping surfaces of equipment before and after use (example- in the locker room and weight room at school). While lots of schools and businesses have closed to “clean them up“, as soon as the kids come back with the bacteria on their skin or in their nose, the risk of spread returns.
So what can you do? Definitely see your healthcare provider for any red, swollen bug bites or scratches to be evaluated for infection. While rare, MRSA has been known to cause very serious infections in otherwise healthy kids, including blood infections and pneumonia. And yes, they can be treated with non-penicillin based antibiotics and creams, although most need to be drained and cultured to see what antibiotics will work best for your child. And yes, it can re-occur. There is no way to eradicate the MRSA bacteria once you have it, but common sense and good hygiene can go a long way. MRSA is here to stay in our area! So be very vigilant with your child in terms of bug bites and scratches and seek medical care if worried. Is it a spider bite? Most likely not, but your doctor can help you decide! Until next time, be good.
Robert L. Rux, M.D. is a Board Certified Pediatrician at Magnolia Springs Pediatrics. Originally from Mobile, he attended medical school at The University of Alabama School of Medicine (UAB) and completed residency at The Children’s Hospital of Alabama (UAB). He is married to Jaime and has three children, Adler, Walker and Mary McAtee.