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Schools respond to growing number of “superbug” infections among students

 

With the release of information that three students in three Clarksville-Montgomery Schools have contracted MRSA, a “superbug” staph infection resistant to traditional antibiotics, one might ask why the school system has chosen not to disinfect city schools, or at least the ones attended by the students involved?

On Friday it was reported that three students in three CMCSS schools — Northeast Middle, Cumberland Elementary and New providence Elementary — in three distinct sections of the community had developed MRSA infections. It has not been disclosed where or how the individual students contracted MRSA in such geographically separate districts and because of the link to hygiene the source could be “anywhere,” officials indicated.

MRSA [Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus] is a type of bacteria that is resistant to certain antibiotics including methicillin, oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin, which can make it difficult to treat. Its symptoms include red pimple-like pustules that may ooze pus. MRSA can only be verified through laboratory tests; keeping the infection site clean and covered until the infected area heals, and vigilance in personal and environmental hygiene is essential in preventing further spread of MRSA.

CMCSS said in a document released Friday through the Parent Information Network, that” appropriate steps” were being taken to notify staff, parents and students and provide health and safety information. That preventive information is primarily focused on hygiene, hand-washing and attention to maintenance in terms of cleaning, especially locker rooms, and bathrooms. The school response indicated that “appropriate measures” were being taken to address the issue in schools. Many of the preventive steps taken to avert MRSA exposure — hygiene, handwashing, cleaning — are the same or similar practices recommended for cold and flu prevention and taught by the American Red Cross in their Pandemic Flu training program.

MRSA can be spread only by contact with the infected wound, not simply by being near a student with MRSA, according to official comments.

Nonetheless, in Pike County, Kentucky, the reported case of a single student affected with MRSA was enough to trigger a short-term school system shutdown that will last long enough for a massive disinfecting/sanitizing effort in 23 schools, a move that affects over 10,000 students in that system. Pike County has ordered the scrubbing down of classrooms, cafeterias, restrooms, hallways, locker rooms and even buses. Pike County officials call it a “preventive” measure, noting that one student has been affected but citing the seriousness of this particular type of infection.

In Tennessee, in 2004, the state had 701 reported cases of MRSA; that number jumped to 1845 in 2005. The most serious case in Middle Tennessee occurred at Seigel Elementary School in Mufreesboro, where a five-year-old kindergarten student is “gravely ill” with MRSA. Two Williamson County Middle School students and seven students from Sycamore High School in Cheatham County developed MRSA. In Cheatham County, athletics officials have been scrubbing down field houses in a preventive effort to keep facilities safe and sanitized.

In Arizona, where 950 cases have been reported (including 646 in Maricopa City) since January 1, a single staff member at Phoenix Union High School diagnosed with MRSA triggered a mass “disinfecting” of the schools. In Bedford County, New York, 22 schools were sanitized in response to MRSA. In East Forsyth High School in North Carolina, where six football players developed MRSA, cleaning continues. Millar, Nebraska schools used school Fall break week as the time to disinfect all city schools.

Cases have been reported across the country, in states like Ohio, Michigan, and Connecticut and Maryland. Rockville, MD, reported 13 cases of MRSA. In New Rochelle, NY, ten members of an Iona College sports team contracted MRSA infections, and seven students in Long Island schools were affected.

MRSA was responsible for the death of a high school senior student in Virginia and a seventh grade student in Brooklyn New York. Officials note that facilities for athletics and exercise such as gyms and health clubs are a higher risk area requiring extra vigilance and attention to sanitation.

While many MRSA infections are typically minor, invasive MRSA infections, because they are caused by drug-resistant staph, can become fatal. MRSA is responsible for more deaths in the United States each year than AIDS. The Center for Disease Control [CDC] reports that 25-30% of the population carry the staph infection, which is one of the most common causes of infection. The Center for Disease Control reports that the USA incurred 95,000 cases of MRSA in 2005, with a related death rate of 18,500, a ration higher than HIV/AIDS.

“MRSA is being found “more frequently outside health care setting,” according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Oct17, 2007). “Invasive MRSA is a major public health problem and is primarily related to health care but is not longer confined to acute health care.”

The School Department, in a communique sent to parents of every student in the system, advocates the following practices as preventive actions:

  • Frequent hand-washing and attention to hygiene is essential.
  • In athletics, mats, benches or other shared athletic equipment that might have skin contact should be disinfected after each game or practice.
  • Students should not share towels in locker rooms
  • Contaminated surfaces may be cleaned using an EPA-registered cleaner or bleach solution (1 part bleach to 9 parts water).
  • Routine cleaning of other surfaces is all that is recommended. Because the bacteria live on the skin, they may be reintroduced into any environment at any time. Therefore, hand washing and wound care remain the primary means of preventing staph infections.

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