MRSA Increased Death Toll of Healthy Children with H1N1 Flu in 2009


According to the researchers, many formerly healthy children developed MRSA, an infection which contributed to the overall death toll due to respiratory failure.

In the year 2009, when the latest strain of H1N1 flu was at its height, many previously healthy children became deathly ill after being diagnosed with the flu. Now, researchers believe they have found the reason.

According to the researchers, many formerly healthy children developed methicillin resistant staph aureus (MRSA) infection, which contributed to the overall death toll due to respiratory failure.

The study’s findings indicate that a healthy child may be eight times more susceptible to death should they have MRSA. The researchers are calling these deaths “a warning sign.” Study author Dr. Adrienne Randolph, critical care researcher at Children's Hospital Boston, reported that "There's more risk for MRSA to become invasive in the presence of flu or other viruses.”

Despite this fact, however, the researchers found that the children were treated promptly and efficiently with Vancomycin, a drug meant to stop MRSA in its tracks, but the drug had no effect on the MRSA which killed them.

During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, the researchers followed 838 children admitted to 35 pediatric intensive care units across the nation. Of the 838 children, 75 died. Alarmingly, 67% of them died within two weeks of being admitted to the ICU.

While most of the admitted children had another chronic disease, 30% were previously healthy. According to the researchers, it is very rare for healthy children to die in such a manner, but the researchers believe the MRSA was responsible for causing the pneumonia and respiratory failure, which heavily damaged their lungs.

"Some children were quickly overwhelmed, and many died despite centers doing everything to save them," Randolph said. "It's not that flu alone can't kill—it can—but in most cases children with flu alone survived."

As the virus is expected to return this season, the researchers recommended that any child who is experiencing flu-like symptoms should be treated immediately. Only 6% of the children followed in this study were given the antiviral drug Tamiflu before being admitted to the hospital, and as Tamiflu works best when administered within two days of the onset of symptoms, Randolph reported that this action may have prevented some of the deaths.

The researchers also urged that all children six months and older be vaccinated for the virus.

"MRSA is hard to develop a vaccine against - researchers have been trying since the 1960s and have been unsuccessful," Randolph stated. "So the only way to prevent these severe complications is to get everyone vaccinated against the flu, and do more studies of MRSA colonization so we can prevent it in the community and in kids."

This study was published in the November 7th issue of Pediatrics.

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