A frequent referral to our pediatric infectious disease outpatient program at Boston Medical Center is the child with recurrent skin and soft tissue infection. Most often, the child is an infant, toddler, or adolescent; the child is otherwise well but has had two or three prior episodes of skin infection; the infections are typically peri-inguinal including the buttocks, but may involve the face, back, thighs, or scalp. The families are often frustrated and hoping for a solution. Are there effective strategies for reducing recurrences?

Several recent studies provide insights and can be helpful in forming an evidence-based approach that offers modest benefit for reducing the risk of recurrence. Most recently, Kaplan et al. ( Clin. Inf. Dis. 2014;58:679-82 ) reported on a clinical trial of sodium hypochlorite bleach baths combined with hygienic measures (frequent hand washing with soap, cutting fingernails short, using towels or washcloths and clothing without sharing, and daily bathing or showering), compared with hygienic measures alone. The treatment group received twice-weekly hypochlorite baths with 5 mL household bleach (Clorox-Regular 6.0% hypochlorite) per gallon of bath water, followed by moisturizer. Most children were colonized with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)(approximately 70%) or methicillin-susceptible S. aureus (MSSA)(approximately 30%). In the 12-month follow-up, 20% of children had recurrent skin or soft tissue infection (SSTI). Risk factors for recurrence were young age (<6 years) and burden of colonization (number of colonized sites). A small, nonstatistically significant benefit was observed in the treatment group with a 17% incidence of SSTI, compared with 20.9% in controls (P = 0.15). The authors concluded a bleach bath plus hygiene measures was associated with about a 20% nonstatistically significant decrease in recurrent community-acquired SSTI. No adverse effects of bleach baths were identified.

A second open-label, randomized study by Fritz et al. ( Clin. Inf. Dis. 2012;54:743-51 ) evaluated the value of individual decolonization, compared with household decolonization, in children 6 months through 20 years of age with prior community-acquired SSTI. Cases were randomized to individual decolonization regimens (hygiene, 2% mupirocin for 5 days and 4% chlorhexidine daily body washes) or to household decolonization. Staphylococcal colonization was evaluated at 1, 3, 6, and 12 months. No differences in the rate of eradication of S. aureus were observed between the two strategies, except at 3 months where a greater proportion of children randomized to household decolonization were culture negative. Despite the lack of impact on colonization, SSTI documented by a physician was less common in children where decolonization was householdwide. After 12 months, 36% of children in the household decolonization sites had recurrent SSTI, compared with 55% in the individual decolonization stratum (P = .03). The authors concluded that household decolonization reduces SSTI in both the individual and household contacts.

Another approach to decolonization has been the use of oral antibiotics in combination with mupirocin and hexachloradine. Although data are limited, Miller et al. ( Antimicrob. Agents Chemother. 2012;56:1084-6 ) reported on a small cohort of 31 prospectively evaluated patients with recurrent community-acquired MRSA skin infections. Individuals received nasal mupirocin, topical hexachlorophene body wash, and an oral antibiotic based on susceptibility testing (doxycycline, minocycline, or trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole). In the 6 months prior to enrollment, the mean rate of SSTI was three infections per person (range, 2-30). The mean number of MRSA infections after the intervention decreased significantly from 0.84 infections per month to 0.03 infections per month during the 5.2-month follow-up. In general, the regimens were well tolerated with minor gastrointestinal complaints. The authors concluded that the combination of systemic and topical antimicrobials was associated with subsequent decreases in community-acquired MRSA SSTI; however, they acknowledged that without a control group, they were unable to be certain that the decrease was due to the prescribed regimen.

Our current approach for children referred with recurrent SSTI is household decolonization with nasal mupirocin and daily hexachloradine baths or showers or hypochlorite baths. The mupirocin is prescribed for 5-10 days; the hexachloradine/hypochlorite baths, for several months. We also stress the need for hygiene, including washing towels and linens in hot water, and cleaning surfaces and items such as remote controls with hypochlorite solutions. Although the value of environmental decontamination is unknown, studies by Uhlemann et al. ( PLOS ONE 2011;6: e22407 ) demonstrated excess contamination of household surfaces in homes of SSTI cases. If recurrences continue, the addition of an antimicrobial agent is considered. We reserve doxycycline for children over 8 years of age and prescribe trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole for those younger than 8 years. We also will ask about pets although we are aware of only anecdotal reports where treating the family dog or cat has aborted recurrent disease in the patients.

In summary, recurrent SSTI is common, especially among young children. The burden of colonization appears related to both the risk for recurrent disease and the risk for transmission within the household. Reducing colonization is valuable for decreasing the incidence of recurrent SSTI both for the individual as well as the household members. The current strategies demonstrate modest success, but as many as 30%-40% of patients will continue to have recurrent SSTI. Education about the early signs of infection, early evaluation of SSTI, and appropriate management (topical treatment, incision and drainage, or systemic antibiotics) are successful strategies for limiting progression to invasive staphylococcal disease.

Dr. Pelton is chief of pediatric infectious disease and coordinator of the maternal-child HIV program at Boston Medical Center. Dr. Yildirim is a fellow in pediatric infectious disease and an epidemiologist, at Boston Medical Center. To comment, e-mail Dr. Pelton and Dr. Yildirim at pdnews@frontlinemedcom.com.