Staph-caused pneumonia more common: CDC
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pneumonia contracted outside a hospital caused by a staph bacterium, including a "superbug" strain, may be more common in U.S. children than previously thought, health officials said on Wednesday.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Prevention and Control focused on pneumonia cases caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus at three Atlanta-area children's hospitals. Almost half involved a drug-resistant strain known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, the CDC said.
MRSA is sometimes called a "superbug" because it resists treatments by all but the most powerful antibiotics.
A team led by the CDC's Dr. Alexander Kallen identified 53 children, average age 8-1/2, with pneumonia caused by this bacterium -- more than they expected -- at the three hospitals over seven months during the 2006-2007 flu season. Of these, 22 involved MRSA, the CDC said.
Of six children who died, three had pneumonia involving MRSA, the CDC said. Death occurred an average of 13 days after the onset of symptoms.
Staph bacteria typically are found on the skin or in the nose of about a third of people.
The findings were presented at an infectious diseases conference in Atlanta.
Kallen said in recent years the CDC had heard a large number of reports of rapidly fatal Staphylococcus aureus pneumonia occurring in children.
"We did find a fair number of cases -- more than we would have expected initially," Kallen said in a telephone interview, although the death rate was lower than anticipated.
Kallen said the proportion of the cases involving MRSA was a matter of concern. "It's basically a Staphylococcus aureus bug that's resistant to certain types of antibiotics that are frequently used to treat staph," he said.
While the study involved pediatric pneumonia cases, the same trends may be occurring in adult patients. "We don't have any reason to believe it would be any different," Kallen said.
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can be caused by bacteria, viruses and fungi. Its severity can be based on the type of organism causing it.
This study looked at "community acquired pneumonia" -- cases contracted outside the setting of a medical care facility.
Kallen also expressed concern that close to 40 percent of the children with pneumonia related to MRSA were not given antibiotics that covered this drug-resistant strain.