27 April 2008

Child deaths from flu + MRSA

Steve Smith of the Boston Globe (who is really good, and I say that as someone who used to compete against him) has a story up regarding state and national concern over children's deaths from MRSA pneumonia. There have been two such deaths in Massachusetts this year. These are the sort of deaths that make headlines, as they did last October with the death of 17-year-old Ashton Bonds in Virginia: The pneumonia is very fast-moving and very destructive of lung tissue, and young children have died from it in less than 24 hours.

The CDC is concerned about this: Twice in two years (last May, blogged here, and last January), the agency pushed out an advisory to state health departments, asking them to report any children's deaths in which flu played a role. Surveillance for pediatric flu deaths is a relatively new thing for the CDC — the agency set up a system after the bad early flu season of 2003-04, in which more than 150 children died — so there is relatively little history to draw on. But MRSA has played a role in child deaths in each of the past three years, according to that January bulletin:
From October 1, 2006 through September 30, 2007, 73 deaths from influenza in children were reported to CDC from 39 state health departments and two city health departments. Data on the presence (or absence) of bacterial co-infections were recorded for 69 of these cases; 30 (44%) had a bacterial co-infection, and 22 (73%) of these 30 were infected with Staphylococcus aureus.

The number of pediatric influenza-associated deaths reported during 2006-07 was moderately higher than the number reported during the two previous surveillance years; the number of these deaths in which pneumonia or bacteremia due to S. aureus was noted represents a five-fold increase. Only one S. aureus co-infection among 47 influenza deaths was identified in 2004-2005, and 3 co-infections among 46 deaths were identified in 2005-2006. Of the 22 influenza deaths reported with S. aureus in 2006-2007, 15 children had infections with methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA).
Among MRSA researchers, concern over these necrotizing pneumonia cases has been growing for a few years. Some surveillance suggests that such cases may be increasing, though that could be an issue of, "once you start looking for something, you find it." And the cases are undeniably severe: 56% of children with MRSA pneumonia die, according to a 2007 paper.

But at leaast some of those deaths may be avoisable — or would be if doctors in the community were more attuned to the possibility of MRSA. In a poster at last autumn's ICAAC meeting (first author AJ Kallen) CDC researchers reported thay reviewed charts of all the children admitted with a stah infection at Atlanta's three children's hospitals during the 2006-07 flu season. There were 53 cases of Staph aureus pneumonia; 22 of the children saw a physician an average of 3.5 days before being admitted to the hospital, and THREE of them got drugs that would work against staph.

And yes, you read that right: Active case-finding in Atlanta in 2006-07 found 53 cases of flu-related staph pneumonia; 22 of them, according to the paper, were MRSA. But from the entire country during 2006-07, according to the advisory quoted above, the CDC received reports of 22 flu/staph pneumonias, 15 of them MRSA. Which suggests that flu/MRSA pneumonias in children are more common than current surveillance reveals.

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