Health officer: Staph case is no cause for alarm

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 30, 2007

COURTLAND—An employee’s drug-resistant staph infection at the Southampton County Office Center is no cause for alarm, and normal flu-season precautions should be sufficient to protect other employees and visitors, officials say.

&uot;I don’t think they’re in any more danger than they were a month ago,&uot; Dr. Lisa McCoy, director of the Western Tidewater Health District, said Thursday. &uot;They shouldn’t do anything different than they do for the cold and flu season.&uot;

Following rumors over the weekend of an employee with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, County Administrator Michael Johnson sent an e-mail to those who work at the county office center reminding them that personal hygiene is the first line of defense against a wide variety of infections, including MRSA.

&uot;Hand washing, wound care and routine cleaning remain the primary means of preventing communicable infections,&uot; he advised in an e-mail to 23 county employees on Tuesday.

Johnson included information from the Virginia Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with his e-mail.

&uot;The Virginia Department of Health,&uot; he wrote, &uot;has offered recent guidance and recommendations reminding us to remain vigilant in attending to personal hygiene with frequent hand washing, exercising appropriate office equipment hygiene and cough etiquette and seeking prompt medical attention for any suspicious skin infections.&uot;

McCoy said routine cleaning with Lysol, Clorox or similar products would be sufficient to protect against spreading MRSA and most other infectious diseases through contact with office equipment.

She also said there is no need for office center employees and visitors to panic about MRSA, noting that it has &uot;been around for decades.&uot;

Between 25 and 30 percent of the population is colonized with some form of staph bacteria, she wrote in an e-mail, and about 1 percent carry the methicillin-resistant strain. Even those people usually can be treated with other antibiotics, she said.

Even more important is the fact that the skin-resident type of MRSA that is most common — which can cause boils, pimples and other, similar skin infections — is not nearly as serious as blood infections that occur most frequently in hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Blood-borne MRSA infections can be deadly, as in the case of a Bedford student who died earlier this year from a MRSA infection that had spread to his kidney, liver, lungs and the muscles around his heart.

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.

In the wake of the Bedford student’s death, school systems throughout Virginia took steps to remind employees about the need for good personal hygiene and clean facilities.

Local school divisions cleaned and sanitized their facilities and advised coaches to keep sporting equipment clean. They also installed hand sanitizers in public areas and warned teachers and coaches to be on the lookout for students with active staph infections.

County Administrator Johnson said Monday that his conversations with Dr. McCoy had convinced him there was no need for a wholesale disinfection of county offices.