It started as a bump on my youngest son’s back not far from his belt line. “What’s that?” my husband asked, always the more vigilant of the two of us. I looked at the innocuous looking bump, and replied, “I don’t know, a spider bite maybe. Don’t worry about it. I’m sure it’s nothing.” The next day, the area surrounding the bump began to fill with pus, turned red and felt hot to the touch.
Luckily, my doctor’s office runs a weekend clinic, so I brought him in for an appointment. I thought it was a bug bite that had gotten infected. The doctor confirmed my suspicions, telling me that it was a run of the mill staph infection. She advised me to place warm compresses on the area three times a day, apply hydrogen peroxide and a prescribed antibiotic ointment. She told me to keep the area covered. Because staph is everywhere, she told me that as long as I kept the area covered, my son would be safe to go back to school and out in public.
As an aside, I have to admit that staph infections have been a long-term fear of mine. As a family, we have dealt with lice (when the shampoo and combing failed to eradicate the problem, I just shaved my boys’ heads), stomach viruses, the croup, amoebic dysentery, rsv, asthma and allergies. Personally, I have had scabies, ringworm, and an invasion of bird mites in a home that my husband and I rented. Aside from dangerous illnesses like cancer or brain aneurysms, staph infections have always been one of my biggest fears. When I was in high school, I first learned about staph infections from my sister’s friend, who spent almost a year battling one that had set up shop in her armpit. In my 20’s, I ran into a friend at the bookstore, who had acquired staph while surfing. She said that she had tried almost every antibiotic, but she simply could not get rid of the infection. After many months, she had apparently just found the right antibiotic to take care of her problem.
Then, there were the newspaper articles. In 2012, the New York Times published an article about a 12 year old boy, who got a cut on his arm playing basketball, dying a few days later from a staph infection. There were also stories of MRSA circulating around athletic locker rooms, maiming or killing both professional and high school football players. All of the news terrified me.
However, my son’s initial infection responded well to the antibiotic cream and cleared up fairly quickly, easing my fears. Then, it spread to his skinned knee. I was able to see his primary care physician, who confirmed that the staph infection had spread. While she wasn’t able to take a culture, she said that she strongly suspected MRSA because of the speed of transmission. She told me that while the infection sounded scary, that she treated kids frequently with staph infections and that I shouldn’t panic. She prescribed an oral antibiotic in addition to the antibiotic ointment. She said that sometimes people have one incident with staph, and they don’t have another. Other times, it gets spread between family members or reoccurs in the same child. She told me to replace all of our soap with an anti-bacterial soap and to continue the hot compresses three times a day. The nurse told me to stop using the hydrogen peroxide, because she found it damaged healthy skin and did more harm than good.
I immediately went to the grocery store and bought Clorox wipes, Lysol, antibacterial soap, lots of antibacterial hand wash, Clorox spray, medical gloves, bandages and lots of band aids. At home, I put away our environmentally safe cleaners, our nice smelling olive oil soaps and anything that wouldn’t kill the bacteria. Luckily, my son’s infection responded well to the antibiotics, and his infection is almost gone after only a week. As a family, we have also been taking precautions like putting antibiotic ointment in all of our nostrils twice a day to defeat colonies of staph that may be living in our nostrils. We may never know whether or not my son had MRSA or just a staph infection, but hopefully we will not have any more outbreaks. That said, I will not view any cut, abrasion or bug bite in the same way again.