Normal staph infections or strains that are not drug-resistant appeared to be as huge of a threat as superbugs among infants – even though bloodstream infections in this age group are rare, warned a new study.

Researchers reporting in JAMA Pediatrics last Oct. 19 found that regular staph is still as dangerous, meaning one has to be on the lookout even for garden-variety infections among infants.

Dr. P. Brian Smith of the Duke University School of Medicine and his colleagues looked at the mortality of infants with methicillin-susceptible Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA) and the superbug methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) – the former infecting and killing more babies than the latter across all birthweight categories – at 348 neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) across the United States.

“The absolute numbers of infections and deaths due to MSSA exceed those due to MRSA,” the study concluded, recommending hospital infection control measures for MRSA to include MSSA as well.

Out of 887,910 babies, 3,888 were identified to have MSSA while 1,110 had MRSA. There were 44.8 MSSA infections for every 10,000 babies, with the incidence increasing from 1997 to 2006 and modestly declining from 2007 to 2012.

More babies died from MSSA than MRSA, although the numbers were similar at 237 cases (10 percent of cases) for MSSA and 110 (12 percent) for MRSA.

The study also showed that invasive staph infections were more likely to affect infants who were born at less than 3.3 pounds than those who weighed heavier at birth.

These findings in infants are in contrast with those in adults, where drug-resistant infections are a bigger killer. The authors suggested that the difference may lie in their immune systems along with similar factors.

Dr. Pablo J. Sanchez from Ohio State University’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital said in a related editorial that preventing horizontal transmission in NICU outbreaks is key. He reminded that transmission can take place “via the hands of health care workers,” emphasizing the need for hand hygiene as standard precaution.

“Hand hygiene is cost-effective and easy to perform,” he said.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over two million individuals are infected by drug-resistant bugs every year. About 23,000 die from the infection, while one in 25 patients in American hospitals has caught an infection while in the facility.

Mostly accounting for the spread of both normal and drug-resistant infections are poorly washed hands, and contaminated stethoscopes and surfaces.

Photo: Gabi Menashe | Flickr

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