MRSA in children: Symptoms, treatment, and risks

MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a potentially severe or fatal bacterial infection.

Years ago, MRSA mainly caused problems in hospitals and healthcare centers, but it has since spread into the community. Children, toddlers, and babies can pick up the bacteria from contact with other kids.

MRSA can be difficult to treat because it is resistant to some common antibiotics. This means that the medication can no longer kill the bacteria.

In this article, we describe how to recognize MRSA in children, and what parents and caregivers should do next.

How to identify MRSA in children

MRSA spreads mainly through skin-to-skin contact.

About one in three people carry Staphylococcus aureus in their nose without becoming ill, while only about two people in 100 carry the resistant strain that causes MRSA.

However, if MRSA bacteria get further into the body, it can cause problems. The bacteria can enter through any skin that is broken, such as a cut or scrape.

MRSA usually starts as a skin infection that can appear anywhere on a child’s body.

Early symptoms of MRSA in a child can include:

  • a bump that is red, swollen, and hot
  • a bump that is painful, possibly only when touched
  • skin around a sore that is warm or hot
  • a boil full of pus
  • an abscess, which is a larger boil
  • a sore that looks like a spider bite
  • bumps under the skin that are swollen and hard
  • a bump that does not heal

In some cases, the child may also have a fever.


A parent or caregiver should never try to treat MRSA at home.

Anyone who suspects MRSA should contact a doctor for advice right away because the bacteria can spread very quickly and make the child seriously ill.

After a doctor has provided treatment, parents and caregivers should take the following steps to prevent the bacteria from spreading to others or reinfecting the child:

  • applying clean, dry bandages over the affected area, and changing them daily
  • always putting the old bandages in the trash and washing the hands thoroughly
  • washing the child’s clothes, towels, and sheets
  • cleaning the surfaces that the child has touched, including washbasins and door handles, where MRSA can live
  • cleaning and disinfecting the child’s toys
  • making sure the child washes their hands frequently, especially after touching the affected area

It is important to remember that, if the doctor has prescribed antibiotics, the child must take every dose, even if they seem to have recovered.

When to see a doctor

If a child receives treatment early, MRSA usually remains a mild skin infection. But if left untreated, it can make the child seriously ill, and may even lead to death.

In 2017, researchers published the results of a study concerning 232 cases of MRSA in people aged 18 years or younger who were admitted to one of three hospitals in the United States.

The authors found that each day that the infection went untreated, the risk of complications grew, the infection became harder to treat, and it was more likely to spread to other parts of the body.

It is essential that a doctor checks a child right away if they show any of the above symptoms.

Also, seek urgent medical attention if a child has an infected sore and:

  • a fever
  • chills or a headache
  • a rash

One of the best ways to prevent the spread of MRSA is to teach children to wash their hands regularly with soap and warm water, especially after using the restroom and before eating.

It can be challenging to teach children the importance of washing their hands. The charity MRSA action UK has some helpful tips to make hand-washing fun, including:

  • turning it into a game, or associating it with a song
  • having fun soaps
  • keeping a handwashing chart
  • using homemade posters for encouragement

Parents and caregivers can also help by:

  • teaching children to never share towels, washcloths, or other personal items
  • using clean, dry bandages to cover cuts and scrapes
  • teaching children not to scratch or pick at sores


The authors of the study from June 2018 concluded that MRSA continues to be a major cause of pediatric illness, and sometimes death, in the U.S. and throughout the world.

A child can contract MRSA in hospitals and healthcare centers, but the infection can also pass through skin-to-skin contact, during play, at school, or at daycare, for example.

If a doctor treats it in time, MRSA can occur as a mild skin infection. However, if it spreads unchecked throughout the body, the infection can make the child seriously ill and be very difficult to treat.

The best way to prevent MRSA from spreading among children is to teach good hygiene practices and to show any skin infections or sores to a doctor.

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