Careful cleaning of children's skin wounds key to healing, regardless of antibiotic choice

February 21, 2011, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

When it comes to curing skin infected with the antibiotic-resistant bacterium MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), timely and proper wound cleaning and draining may be more important than the choice of antibiotic, according to a new Johns Hopkins Children's Center study. The work is published in the March issue of Pediatrics.

Researchers originally set out to compare the efficacy of two antibiotics commonly used to treat staph skin infections, randomly giving 191 children either cephalexin, a classic anti-staph antibiotic known to work against the most common strains of the bacterium but not MRSA, or clindamycin, known to work better against the . Much to the researchers' surprise, they said, drug choice didn't matter: 95 percent of the children in the study recovered completely within a week, regardless of which antibiotic they got.

The finding led the research team to conclude that proper wound care, not antibiotics, may have been the key to healing.

"The good news is that no matter which antibiotic we gave, nearly all skin infections cleared up fully within a week," says study lead investigator Aaron Chen, M.D., an at Hopkins Children's. "The better news might be that good low-tech wound care, cleaning, draining and keeping the infected area clean, is what truly makes the difference between rapid healing and persistent infection."

Chen says that proper wound care has always been the cornerstone of treatment but, the researchers say, in recent years more physicians have started prescribing antibiotics preemptively.

Although the Johns Hopkins investigators stop short of advocating against prescribing antibiotics for uncomplicated MRSA skin infections, they call for studies that directly measure the benefit — if any — of drug therapy versus proper wound care. The best study, they say, would compare patients receiving placebo with those on antibiotics, along with proper wound cleaning, draining and dressing.

Antibiotics can have serious side effects, fuel drug resistance and raise the cost of care significantly, the researchers say.

"Many physicians understandably assume that antibiotics are always necessary for bacterial infections, but there is evidence to suggest this may not be the case," says senior investigator George Siberry, M.D., M.P.H., a Hopkins Children's pediatrician and medical officer at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Institute of Child Health & Human Development. "We need studies that precisely measure the benefit of antibiotics to help us determine which cases warrant them and which ones would fare well without them."

The 191 children in the study, ages 6 months to 18 years, were treated for skin infections at Hopkins Children's from 2006 to 2009. Of these, 133 were infected with community-acquired MRSA, and the remainder had simple staph infections with non-resistant strains of the bacterium. Community-acquired (CA-MRSA) is a virulent subset of the bacterium that's not susceptible to most commonly used antibiotics. Most CA-MRSA causes skin and soft-tissue infections, but in those who are sick or have weakened immune systems, it can lead to invasive, sometimes fatal, infections.

At 48-hour to 72-hour follow-ups, children treated with both showed similar rates of improvement — 94 percent in the cephalexin group improved and 97 percent in the clindamycin group improved. By one week, the infections were gone in 97 percent of patients receiving cephalexin and in 94 percent of those on clindamycin. Those younger than 1 year of age and those whose infections were accompanied by fever were more prone to complications and more likely to be hospitalized.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Ambitious global virome project could mark end of pandemic era

February 23, 2018
Rather than wait for viruses like Ebola, SARS and Zika to become outbreaks that force the world to react, a new global initiative seeks to proactively identify, prepare for and stop viral threats before they become pandemics.

Forecasting antibiotic resistance with a 'weather map' of local data

February 23, 2018
The resistance that infectious microbes have to antibiotics makes it difficult for physicians to confidently select the right drug to treat an infection. And that resistance is dynamic: It changes from year to year and varies ...

Study reveals how kidney disease happens

February 22, 2018
Monash researchers have solved a mystery, revealing how certain immune cells work together to instigate autoimmune kidney disease.

Scientists gain new insight on how antibodies interact with widespread respiratory virus

February 22, 2018
Scientists have found and characterized the activity of four antibodies produced by the human immune system that target an important protein found in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), according to new research published ...

Past encounters with the flu shape vaccine response

February 20, 2018
New research on why the influenza vaccine was only modestly effective in recent years shows that immune history with the flu influences a person's response to the vaccine.

Building better tiny kidneys to test drugs and help people avoid dialysis

February 16, 2018
A free online kidney atlas built by USC researchers empowers stem cell scientists everywhere to generate more human-like tiny kidneys for testing new drugs and creating renal replacement therapies.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

jonnyboy
1 / 5 (1) Feb 21, 2011
Obviously, since MRSA is resistant to most, if not all, antibiotics. DUH !

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.