"The public health groups in the state and the CDC are concerned about a confluence as 'the perfect storm,' a virulent influenzal pandemic -- for example, bird flu, SARS or [another viral illness] occurring at the same time as the increasing incidence of MRSA," says Klein.
Schaffner says the key to heading off the dangerous partnership between influenza and MRSA is to go on the attack against the flu with increased vaccination rates.
It is a task that is easier said than done. Schaffner notes that only about one-third of children actually receive the flu vaccine during a given season. Part of the reason behind this low turnout could be the number of groups that actively discourage parents from having their children vaccinated against the flu. These groups claim that these vaccines -- primarily, the forms of the vaccine that contain thimerosal -- are a primary cause of autism in children.
One group, known as SafeMinds, provides a printable brochure on its Web site titled "Help Spread the Word About the Flu Vaccine." The group encourages supporters to leave the brochure in their doctors' offices and other locations.
On the other side of the vaccination equation, current CDC recommendations do little to bolster flu vaccination among kids, as they urge vaccination primarily of children 6 months to 5 years old, and others "if feasible."
But this could change soon. Schaffner says that by the 2008-2009 flu season, the agency will change its guidelines to recommend that everyone under the age of 19 receive the flu vaccine.
Additionally, he hopes that parents and pediatricians will take immunization recommendations more seriously as additional information about MRSA and influenza become public.
"This strengthens even more the rationale for vaccinating all children against influenza each year," he says. "If you prevent the initial influenza infection, you also prevent the dire complication of MRSA pneumonia. Thus, vaccinating all children against influenza is a public health program with a double benefit -- what could be better than that?"
Dr. Diane Kang contributed to this report.