Superbug infections are rising dramatically among children with atopic dermatitis (eczema) Australian research shows. 

A 15-year study has found the superbug MRSA is 24 times higher in these children now than it was in the first phase of the study from 1999 to 2002. 

MRSA is methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus – a strain of common skin bacterium Staphylococcus aureus that has become resistant to the antibiotic methicillin and so infections can be hard to treat.

This is a major public health problem as well as one that has increased risk of disease for patients, says study author Dr Cassandra Chaptini, a dermatologist at the Flinders Medical Centre, Adelaide.

“People with atopic dermatitis are much more susceptible to developing Staphylococcus aureus skin colonisation and infections, and, in fact, S. aureus has been isolated in 60–100% of those with atopic dermatitis compared to 5–30% of those without,” she told the annual scientific meeting of the Australasian College of Dermatologists in Adelaide this week.

“This is important because invasive MRSA infection is associated with higher rates of disease and death compared with MSSA – Staphylococcus aureus that is sensitive to the antibiotic methicillin.” 

While the incidence of MRSA skin infections in the general population is known to be rapidly increasing, the prevalence in people with atopic dermatitis (eczema) hasn’t been determined previously, Dr Chaptini says.

The study of patients aged up to 18 who presented to a South Australian hospital found that 78.5% of those with atopic dermatitis had MSSA and 7% had the antibiotic-resistant MRSA. 

The prevalence of MRSA has been increasing at each consecutive time period studied, being 13 times more prevalent in 2007–10, and 16 times more prevalent in 2011–14, compared to 1999–2002. 

Ruby Prosser Scully

Last Reviewed: 21/05/2015

Reproduced with kind permission from Medical Observer.