Doctors Baffled by Superbug's Presence

Despite this apparent rise, doctors and public health experts are still looking for answers as to how these infections arise and spread in the places that these children live and play.

"We don't know why this organism began to mutate in this way in the community. … This community onset is by far the concern for us."

Hospitals Taking the Initiative

Hospitals, in the meantime, are far more acquainted with the ability of this deadly infection to spread. For this reason, hospital systems around the country have been implementing measures to stem the spread of the disease.

And in New Jersey, the legislature recently passed a law requiring hospitals to conduct MRSA tests for all patients before they can be admitted into an intensive care unit.

Another example is the University of Virginia Medical System, which has appointed specialists who gather data from patients' charts to try to catch infections before they become a problem.

Medical centers from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston to Seattle Children's Hospital have adopted stringent hand-washing and hygiene protocols. And the Methodist Hospital System in Houston has gone so far as to plant secret observers in different areas of the hospital to ensure compliance.

But so far, in affected communities, measures to stem the spread of MRSA have largely taken the form of damage control — school closures and intensive cleaning efforts to rid public facilities of the bug.

And while the efforts may indeed go a long way in sterilizing school environments, Driscoll Children's Hospital's Fergie says there is yet no firm evidence that such measures are really effective.

"There are some common-sense recommendations that have always been given to people," he said. "It makes sense. It may help, but we can't say it's protective."

In this sense, it may be the early detection of MRSA infection that is the most important step in saving the lives of those exposed. Dr. Vance Fowler, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University in Durham, N.C., told ABC's Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America" today that these infections generally manifest themselves in the skin.

"For community-associated MRSA, in essence, think skin," he said. "Boils, abscesses, pimples. These are the vast majority of these community-associated infections."

But Fowler added that symptoms of systemic infection may take the form of fever, chills or flulike symptoms. And Fergie says that while rare, some instances of infection make a much more worrying debut.

id "The problem is, some life-threatening cases just begin suddenly, without any skin infection," he said.

Waking Up From the MRSA Nightmare

But as mysterious and frightening as MRSA is, early detection and treatment can go a long way in safeguarding the health of children who contract the infection.

Even the littlest ones, like Evan McFarling.

"He's no worse for wear," said his father, Matt McFarling. "The only remnants of it are the scar on his chest, and we have to thicken his fluids because he has problems swallowing from the surgery. "

"But now he's as rambunctious and rowdy as the rest of them."

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