Pediatric Skin and Soft Tissue Infections (Staph and MRSA)

What is a Staph infection?

Staphylococcus (Staph for short) is a germ that lives in our noses and on our skin. An infection can happen when the skin is open from a scratch or cut or an insect bite. Often a Staph infection can be small like a pimple and will respond to applying heat to the area. Sometimes, staph infections can become more serious infections like abscesses, wound infections, pneumonia, and sepsis.

Almost half of all healthy people carry staph bacteria in their noses without getting sick. Sometimes, however, fingers can carry staph bacteria to other parts of the body and cause infections where there is broken skin.

What is MRSA?

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are Staphylococcus bacteria that have become resistant to certain antibiotics, like penicillin, amoxicillin or augmentin. This resistance to some common antibiotics makes MRSA more difficult to treat, and can lead to more serious infections like abscesses, wound infections, pneumonia, and sepsis. Usually, MRSA is a skin infection. Serious infections like pneumonia rarely develop in healthy people with MRSA skin infections.

What does an MRSA infection look like?

Most MRSA infections are skin infections that look like an insect bite. Often these infections appear near broken skin, like cuts, or areas of the body covered by hair (such as back of the neck, groin, buttocks, armpits).

You should see your doctor if your child has an open wound like a cut and a fever, or if an infection being treated with antibiotics doesn't improve or heal after three or four days of treatment.

What should I do if I think my child has an MRSA or other Staph infection?

If you think your child has an MRSA or other Staph infection, you should contact your primary care doctor first. You should seek medical attention if:

  • The infection gets bigger (a "boil")
  • The infection spreads (redness in the skin)
  • There is fever
  • There is shortness of breath
  • If you have any other concerns

How is a Staph infection transmitted?

Staphylococcus bacteria, including MRSA, is transmitted by direct skin-to-skin contact or contact with surfaces that have come into contact with someone else's infection (such as towels, used bandages).

How can I protect myself and my children from getting MRSA?

  • Wash hands with running water and soap for at least 20 seconds, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Regular hand-washing is the best way to prevent infections of all types, including Staph.
  • Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with bandages.
  • Do not share personal items with other people;for example towels or razors.
  • Do not touch other people's cuts or bandages.
  • Make sure to clean frequently touched surfaces, particularly those that come into contact with people's skin.


If MRSA is antibiotic resistant, how is it treated?MRSA is resistant only to certain antibiotics. In some cases, treatment doesn't require antibiotics at all, only drainage of the infection site. But doctors can order other antibiotics that will effectively treat MRSA if needed.

Your doctor can diagnose a Staph infection, and identify if it is an MRSA infection. It is very important to follow your doctor's treatment instructions, with or without antibiotics.

Should students with MRSA skin infections be excluded from attending school?

Ask your doctor if your child can return to school. Unless directed by a physician under very specific circumstances, students with MRSA infections do not need to be excluded from attending school.

Students with active infections should be excluded from activities where skin-to-skin contact is likely to occur (e.g., sports) until their infections are healed.

Resources for Families

Useful links for more information on MRSA and staphylococcus aureus:

Children's Team

Children's Team




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Our Division of Infectious Diseases is the major referral center for infectious disease in the Washington, DC, area, helping thousands of patients each year, and actively promoting prevention through community outreach and education.

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