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What are Drug-Resistant Infections?

Bacteria are germs that can make you sick. Everyone has bacteria living on their skin, in their mouth, and in their intestines. These bacteria do not make you sick. This is normal and is called colonization. However, when your child is very sick, has surgery, or gets a serious injury, these bacteria can enter the tissues of your child’s body. This can cause an infection that must be treated with antibiotics.

Most often, antibiotics work well to treat infections from bacteria. However, over time, certain bacteria can develop resistance to common antibiotics. This means the usual antibiotics can’t kill the bacteria. These bacteria are called multiple-drug-resistant organisms or MDROs.

Enterococcus [en-TER-oh-KOK-us] and staphylococcus [STAFF-ih-low-KOK-us] are two bacteria commonly found on the body. When these bacteria are resistant, they are called vancomycin [VAN-ko-MY-sin]-resistant enterococcus (VRE) and methicillin [METH-ih-SYL-in]-resistant Staphylococcus aureus [ow-RAY-us] (MRSA).

There are other types of resistant bacteria, but these are the most common. Someone who has VRE or MRSA on their body is more likely to get an infection than someone with normal bacteria on their body.

MRSA and VRE are both bacteria, but viruses and parasites can also be resistant to medicine. Some examples of drug-resistant infections that can happen because of these organisms include:

  • Shingles. Shingles is a viral infection that can cause a painful rash on your body, most commonly on the left or right side of your torso. People who have had chickenpox are at risk of shingles.
  • Scabies. Scabies is caused by small mites that burrow under the skin and cause severe itching.
  • Meningitis [men-IN-jai-TIS]. Meningitis can be caused by a virus, bacteria, or other organisms. It infects the brain and spinal cord and can cause headache, fever, and a stiff neck.


As mentioned above, most of the time the drug-resistant bacteria that have colonized your child’s body don’t cause any problems. However, if your child is sick, gets a cut, or had surgery, these bacteria can get into your child’s blood and cause an infection.

The symptoms of a drug-resistant infection vary depending on the MDRO that your child is infected with:

  • VRE. VRE might infect your child’s urinary tract or bloodstream, causing symptoms of urinary tract infections (UTIs), like pain when urinating (peeing), fever, and pain in the back. Symptoms of acteremia (blood poisoning) include fever and chills.
  • MRSA. Depending on what part of your child’s body MRSA infects, it might cause a skin infection pneumonia, toxic shock syndrome, or bacteremia. Skin infections are the most common and easy to see, and can cause bumps that look like pimples or boils.

When to See a Doctor

You should see a doctor if your child has any symptoms of a bacterial infection, because these can be serious and require immediate treatment. Drug-resistant infections aren’t as common as regular infections, but your child might be at greater risk for a drug-resistant infection if they:

  • Have certain diseases like renal [REE-nuhl] (kidney) disease, diabetes, vascular [VASK-yoo-lahr] disease, or dermatitis [DUHR-muh-TYE-tis].
  • Have had dialysis [dahy-AL-uh-sis], surgery, or catheterization [KATH-ih-tur-ih-ZAY-shun]. These procedures make openings in the body that bacteria can infect.
  • Have been in the hospital many times before.
  • Have already been colonized by a different MDRO.


Drug-resistant infections happen when your child’s body is infected by an MDR like MRSA or VRE. These are special kinds of bacteria that are resistant to the antibiotic drugs that usually kill them.

There are many causes for antibiotic resistance, but the most common is when antibiotics aren’t used the right way. If people don’t take all their prescribed antibiotics, or take them when they don’t need them, bacteria can change and become resistant. These resistant bacteria can then spread to other people and cause even more drug-resistant infections.

Diagnosis and Tests

If your doctor thinks that your child has an infection caused by MRSA, VRE, or another MDRO, they will do a test to look for the bacteria that causes this infection. Usually, this test involves taking a tissue sample, blood sample, or mouth swab from your child. This sample is then put on a dish for 48 hours, giving bacteria a chance to grow if they are present in your child’s body.


Ask your child’s doctor how they will treat your child’s infection. Most of the time, your child will receive antibiotics. Make sure your child takes antibiotics exactly as prescribed, both in the hospital and at home. Do not let your child skip antibiotic doses, even if the infection is getting better.

What Can We Do at Home?

Even though a doctor treated your child’s drug-resistant infection, they may still have the drug-resistant bacteria in their body. Always tell your child’s healthcare providers that your child has had a drug-resistant infection. Your child could get another infection caused by drug-resistant bacteria.


It’s normal for bacteria like staphylococcus and enterococcus to colonize your child’s body. There is no way for you to prevent these bacteria from developing resistance to antibiotics. If these MDROs infect your child, the best approach is to stop the infection from spreading to other people and to take steps to stop future infections.

Preventing Drug-Resistant Infections from Spreading

The most important way to prevent drug-resistant infections from spreading is by washing your hands. While you are in the hospital, make sure that you, your family, and your child wash their hands often and well. You can also make sure that the hospital staff wash their hands before and after touching your child. Good hand hygiene includes washing with soap and water or using a hand sanitizer.

If your child goes to the hospital and has a drug-resistant infection now or had a drug-resistant infection before, they will be placed in contact drug-resistant infection isolation. Your child’s nurse will put a special sign on your child’s door. This tells the hospital staff what to do when they enter your child’s room or care for them. The hospital staff will do the following:

  • Wash their hands using soap and water or a hand sanitizer.
  • Wear gloves and gowns in your child’s room or when touching equipment your child has used.
  • Wear a mask when suctioning secretions from your child’s airways.
  • Carefully disinfect equipment, toys, and supplies right after taking them from your child’s room.

Visitors and family need to wash their hands carefully before going into the room. They also need to ask the nurse about wearing a gown and gloves.

Being in isolation also means you must check with your child’s nurse to see if they can go out of their room. Most children with a drug-resistant infection can go for walks or wheelchair rides as long as they wash their hands. They must not have contact with other patients and families in the hospital, and need to avoid common spaces like playrooms or the cafeteria.

Preventing Future Infections

Here’s how to prevent future infections:

  • Clean your hands and your child’s hands often. Make sure people who live with you clean their hands often, too. You can use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Clean your hands before and after changing any wound dressings or bandages. Keep all wounds clean and change bandages as directed until the wounds heal.
  • Make sure your child finishes any prescribed antibiotics. Do not stop before your child takes all the medicine. Make sure your child gets every dose.
  • Use routine household cleaning and disinfecting products to keep your house clean and free of germs.
Drug-resistant infections are illnesses that are caused by a multiple-drug-resistant organism (MDRO), like MRSA or VRE. These infections are a serious problem because they are hard to cure with antibiotics and can spread to other people.