Monday, January 5, 2009
Awhile back, I wrote about our darkest day in the NICU, when C. was so terribly sick none of the doctors thought she was going to make it. In those first days of her illness, we weren't even entirely sure what it was that plagued her. We had to wait out a lot of lab tests and cultures to see what we were even dealing with.
When we were told that our daughter had MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), neither my husband nor I knew anything about it. But it seemed bizarre to say the least. One day, our daughter was out amid the other babies and everyone handled her with (clean) bare hands. The next, she was in a little "isolation" room and we had to don gowns, masks, and gloves before going in there with her. Well, actually, as the parents, we didn't have to wear masks or gloves, but everyone else did. She was the same child, but the parameters had changed dramatically.
Mostly I was just concerned with little C's health and wanted to see her get better. But, as the days went on and I gleaned some more information from the nurses, I felt less enlightened and more confused. I figured that MRSA must be airborn, hence the masks, right? Nope. I thought, wow, this must be one uncommon, super dangerous bug, right? Not really. I thought, man, it'll be nice when she's "cured" of this infection, right? Um, nope.
I must have gotten annoying with all of my questions because, one day, they sent an expert in infectious diseases to come talk to me. And I was really relieved to be able to ask all my questions and finally get some answers. And here's what I learned...
First of all, MRSA is incredibly common. Some experts estimate that about one third of the general population and over one half of the medical population carry this bacteria on their skin. Hanging out on your skin, it doesn't cause many problems. But in the case of the very fragile (often these are tiny babies and the elderly), if it gets in the bloodstream, it can cause devastating illness. For more "typical", healthy folks, MRSA- like other bacterias- becomes an issue when it finds its way into the bloodstream through a wound and causes infection. What makes it "worse" than other infections is that it's resistant to more antibiotics. This doesn't mean it can't be killed. It just means that doctors have to find the right medication to knock it out.
MRSA is only spread through contact. Why the masks? In case people touch their mouths with their gloved hands, apparently. The specialist indicated she thought this was a bit of overkill and went on to explain that there is not even a consistent protocol for hospitals to use regarding MRSA procedures. Our hospital was on the very conservative side. And that's okay. But it was good to know.
Our daughter will ALWAYS be MRSA-positive. That label doesn't go away. The fact that she's had it in her blood means they can never be sure it's all gone. So what does that mean? In a nutshell, not much. She's not a danger to others; it's not even something schools or daycares care about. There is only one difference for C... she has to have a private room any time she's hospitalized. All-in-all? Not really a big deal.
I think what has been the toughest has been the big media hype in the last few years about "THAT HORRIBLE KIlLER SUPERBUG... MRSA!!!!" I've had people recoil a bit and say, "Isn't that what your daughter has????" And it bothers me. Not that the magazines and news stories feel the need to warn about the dangers, but because it's so sensationalized and so many facts are left out. We all know it makes a better story if it scares the dickens out of us, right?
And so I'm here to tell you, as the mother of a MRSA + child, that it's not as dramatic as they'll have you believe. And I'll also remind you that about a third of you have it too... and that's perfectly okay.
Come back next week when I talk about settling into our new digs and all the growing pains that involved...