This interview is a continuation from part 1.
Dr. Val: How did Simon contract the MRSA infection?
Dr. Macario: That will remain the biggest mystery of my life. No one knows how he picked it up. In Simon’s case there was no entry via the skin – he had no cut or boil or surface evidence of infection. He contracted the community associated strain of the bacterium, which is much more virulent than the kind people get in hospitals. It seems that the MRSA superbug somehow got into his body via his lungs. It’s possible that he touched something with MRSA on it and put it in his mouth and then breathed it in. Unfortunately, there’s just no way to know where he got it.
Dr. Val: How many children die of MRSA infections/year in the US?
Dr. Macario: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2005, nearly 19,000 Americans died from MRSA infections. During the same year, there were 134 cases of MRSA in children. Actually, more people in the US die from MRSA every year than from AIDS.
Dr. Val: Tell me what you’re doing to promote awareness of MRSA.
Dr. Macario: I have a Ph.D. in Public Health, and when I received the autopsy report stating that Simon’s death was caused by community-acquired MRSA, I was dumbfounded. I hadn’t even heard of MRSA before. In fact, in my career in Public Health I thought that infectious diseases were no longer much of an emphasis because of the terrific job we’ve done in eradicating most diseases through vaccine programs and antibiotics. I assumed that lifestyle issues (nutrition, physical activity, early detection, and safety precautions) would be the focus of my career.
It was a real eye-opener to me to live through the loss of a child to a menace I thought we had under control. Sixty years ago families had large numbers of children, knowing that some would be lost to infectious disease. That just isn’t the way we think anymore. But MRSA is a threat that could essentially take us back to a time when Americans died of infections quite commonly. MRSA is a superbug that is highly resistant to most antibiotics we have. It’s only a matter of time until it’s resistant to everything.
I’ve begun working half-time with Dr. Robert S. Daum at the MRSA Research Center at the University of Chicago Medical Center, Department of Pediatrics, Section of Infectious Diseases (Chicago, Illinois). Not only are we studying how contagious MRSA is (in home and jail settings), we are also studying the most effective way to treat MRSA infections.
Dr. Val: What should doctors know about MRSA and children?
Dr. Macario: There are 506 new drugs approved by the FDA for development… only 6 are new forms of antibiotics. That’s because the antibiotics are not so profitible. Antibiotic customers are short term users – they need the antibiotic for a short time and then they’re healed. Contrast that with a drug like Lipitor, something that people need to take every day for a lifetime, and you’ll see why statins are more of a priority for drug company development than a new antibiotic that could combat MRSA.
Doctors need to realize that MRSA is a growing threat, and we may not have a good treatment for it in the near future. There is a new strain of MRSA (the “community associated” strain) that can be found anywhere – schools, homes, locker rooms, and gyms. This strain is more virulent and more resistant to antibiotics than anything we’ve seen before.
Dr. Val: What advice do you have for parents to protect their children from MRSA?
Dr. Macario: Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, clean surfaces with bleach, don’t share personal items like towels and razors. Parents should NOT run to antibiotics for any possible illness their child may have. Don’t use antibiotic soaps. Antibiotics should be considered the absolute last resort. If we keep using them for viral illnesses or when we don’t really need them, we’ll just fuel the drug resistant MRSA.
Dr. Val: What’s the most important thing you’d like to tell Americans about MRSA?
Dr. Macario: This new strain of MRSA (community associated MRSA) can affect anyone. Young, old, middle aged, healthy or sick. It can attack a person as healthy as basketball star Grant Hill. It happened to my healthy baby, and it can happen to your family. People must view antibiotics as a sacred last resort to treating disease. If they overuse and misuse them, MRSA and other resistant strains of bacteria will continue to mutate and become even more prevalent and dangerous.
My husband and I are both highly educated, I keep my house immaculate, I vaccinate my kids, and they never went to daycare centers. It doesn’t matter what socioeconomic strata you’re in, race, gender, ethnicity or age – MRSA doesn’t discriminate. It can happen to you.
But to leave this on a brighter note: my husband and I had another son after Simon died. His name is Dylan, and has brought a lot of joy to our lives.
For more information about MRSA, please check out StopMRSAnow.org
This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.