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Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Potentially Deadly Staph Infections Are Still a Risk for Thousands of Babies

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Staph infections remain a problem among infants, even the strains that are not resistant to drugs, a new study shows.

The study cites estimates that around 5,000 babies will develop severe staph infections every year. About one-tenth of those infected will die from those infections.

Staph infections have become increasingly resistant to drugs used to treat them, specifically methicillin. Methicillin-resistant staph infections are referred to as methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA). The more common form of staph infection, the researchers say, is as methicillin-susceptible S. aureus (MSSA).

New research published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics looked at medical records of over 3,800 infants with severe staph infections in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) across the nation. The records come from the years 1997 to 2012. The researchers found nearly equal death rates following MSSA and MRSA infections at 10% and 12%. MSSA caused over double as many infections as MRSA infections among the newborns during the time period studied.

“Just because a bug responds well to antibiotics doesn’t mean it’s any less deadly,” says senior investigator Aaron Milstone, M.D., M.H.S., an infectious disease specialist at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center said in a statement about the research. “If not detected and treated early, invasive bloodstream infections with garden-variety staph can wreak just as much damage on a newborn’s body as antibiotic-resistant forms.”

Though super bugs were not the problem in 1997 that they are today, the researchers findings underline the fact that even the non-antibiotic resistant strains can still put babies' health at great risk.

The researchers say that many NICUs screen well for drug-resistant infections and set up protocols and precautions to avoid infections with these strains. However, given that babies are still being infected with non-resistant strains, and dying from these infections, the researchers suggest similar measures should be put in place to make sure all strains of staph are avoided. "Consideration should be given to expanding hospital infection control efforts targeting MRSA to include MSSA as well," the study authors conclude.

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