Schools on guard against staph

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 26, 2007

FRANKLIN—There have been no confirmed cases of MRSA in area school divisions, but local public school officials are taking no risks when it comes to the infection that has spread throughout the state and into North Carolina.

Since a Bedford student died as a result of the drug-resistant bacterial infection, schools across Virginia have been taking steps to reduce the possibility of widespread outbreaks.

Franklin, Southampton and Isle of Wight schools are no exception.

From requiring stricter cleaning regimens to providing more hand-sanitizing stations, area schools are attempting to &uot;stay ahead of the situation,&uot; according to school officials.

&uot;We are helping the school staff be more proactive, as far as classroom measures&uot; that can be taken to reduce the risk of outbreak, said Starr Harris, the school nurse at S.P. Morton Elementary School, who is heading Franklin’s effort to educate parents, students and school staff about the dangers of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

Harris called education about the infection &uot;the key to making informed decisions&uot; and helping to prevent its spread. Hand washing, she added, is one of the most important things people can do.

School officials in Franklin, Southampton and Isle of Wight all have met with staff members to talk about actions that need to be taken to prevent the spread of the infection.

&uot;Vigilance and caution are the premises upon which we operate,&uot; Southampton School Superintendent Charles Turner said this week.

Nurses have provided staff members with information on the symptoms of staph infections, he said. Custodians have been advised about the importance of keeping surfaces sanitized, and coaches have been reminded about the importance of keeping all sporting equipment clean.

Additionally, extra waterless hand sanitizers have been installed in the schools and provided to bus drivers.

Both Franklin and Isle of Wight school administrators sent letters home with students last week giving parents advice on steps they can take to protect their own children, as well as others who might come into contact with them.

Isle of Wight School Superintendent Michael W. McPherson wrote that his division &uot;takes public health issues seriously,&uot; and noted that schools there &uot;are following the preventative recommendations of the Virginia Department of Public Health.&uot;

Isle of Wight’s &uot;action plan&uot; includes establishing cleaning procedures that require wiping down desks, doorknobs and countertops; washing and disinfecting all school buses; increasing the disinfection procedures in locker rooms and weight rooms, both during and after use; washing and disinfecting athletic equipment after each use; and ensuring that bathrooms have plenty of soap and towels and that hand sanitizer is available in cafeterias.

Teachers and coaches in all schools are being encouraged to pay more attention to wounds on their students for evidence of drug-resistant staph infections.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, staph bacteria, including MRSA, can cause skin infections that may look like pimples or boils that are red, swollen, and painful or have pus or other drainage.

More serious infections can cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections or surgical wound infections. A Bedford teen died earlier this month from a MRSA infection that had spread to his kidney, liver, lungs and the muscles around his heart.

Most staph infections, including MRSA, occur in hospitals and healthcare facilities, where patients are suffering from weakened immune systems, according to the CDC. However, it is estimated that 25 to 30 percent of the population carries the bacteria. About 1 percent of Americans are thought to have the drug-resistant form.

Staph infections are passed from person to person through direct contact with skin or through contact with contaminated items, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

The bacteria may live in people’s noses and on their skin, and most of the time do not cause problems. Infections can occur when the bacteria enter the body through breaks in the skin, such as wounds.

The CDC says that most staph infections are treatable with antibiotics, and some staph skin infections can be treated by a doctor draining the abscesses or boils that form, without prescribing antibiotics.