Regular Staph Kills More Babies Than 'Superbugs', Study Finds

by Maggie Fox /  / Updated 
Jessica Strom photographs NICU babies for free; preemie babies
Ordinary staph infections are just as likely to kill newborn babies as infections with the MRSA "superbug", a study finds.Jessica Strom Photography

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Ordinary staph infections are just as likely to kill newborn babies as infections caused by a superbug, researchers reported Monday.

It’s a reminder that garden-variety infections are dangerous, too, Dr. Brian Smith of the Duke University school of medicine and colleagues reported.

They surveyed 48 neonatal intensive care units around the United States from 1997 through 2012 and found most staph infections — 72 percent of them — caused by ordinary Staphylococcus aureus germs. Just 28 percent were caused by the headline-generating methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA.

In fact, more babies die from drug-susceptible staph than from MRSA.

But, they report in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Pediatrics, that’s because regular staph is still far more common than MRSA.

Both strains are equally deadly: Between 10 percent and 12 percent of infants infected with either strain of the germ died, they found.

Low-birthweight infants are most at risk. “Invasive S. aureus infections were more common in infants born at less than 1,500 grams than in infants born at 1,500 grams or higher,” they wrote.

And there was some good news. Staph infections rose between 1997 and 2006 and then declined modestly from 2007 through 2012.

More than two million people are infected by drug-resistant germs each year, and 23,000 die of their infections, the Centers for Disease control and Prevention says.

One in 25 U.S. hospital patients has caught an infection while in the hospital, CDC says

Improperly washed hands, germy stethoscopes and contaminated surfaces can all spread both types of germs.

The findings are a reminder that even if MRSA is not a problem on a hospital ward, hygiene is important, said Dr. Pablo Sanchez of the Nationwide Children's Hospital at Ohio State University.

“We know that horizontal transmission occurs via the hands of health care workers, so hand hygiene as part of standard and transmission-based precautions remains the mainstay of prevention. Hand hygiene is cost-effective and easy to perform,” Sanchez wrote in a commentary.

“The common goal must remain prevention of transmission, and the most effective prevention strategy is already in our hands."

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