A new rash of the drug-resistant staph infection known as MRSA at area schools has been reported to the Putnam County Public Department of Health, and though the "super bug" sounds scary, local health workers say that education and a few simple precautions will help stave off the spread and alleviate public concern.
Community-associated MRSA, the type of staph infection recently reported in Putnam County, occurs in otherwise healthy people who have not been recently hospitalized or had an invasive medical procedure, according to the Center For Disease Control (CDC).
MRSA typically presents itself as a skin infection that may appear as pustules or boils, which are often swollen, painful or have pus. Infections typically occur at sites of visible skin trauma, such as cuts or abrasions, and areas covered with body hair, said the CDC.
The 5 C's of MRSA
According to Putnam Count Health Officer Dr. Robert Heavin, the most recent outbreak occurred Greencastle High School, and according to the Indiana Department of Education, school MRSA outbreaks are common, but should not be cause for alarm.
"Do we have MRSA? Sure," said Greencastle School Nurse Kathy Custis. "We have 2000 students in our schools. We're trying to be proactive and stay on top of it as much as possible."
The government agency lists schools among the most common locations for MRSA, among military barracks, correctional facilities, dorms, and households.
Schools across the country have been hot spots for MRSA because the fit into what the CDC describes as the 5 C's: Crowding, frequent skin-to-skin Contact, Compromised skin (cuts or abrasions), Contaminated items and surfaces, and lack of Cleanliness.
School athletic programs are often plagued by MRSA infections, said Heavin, adding that contact sports such as football and wrestling often see the highest rates of infection.
"Wrestlers sweat and there is friction," said Heavin, adding that even if they cover a MRSA related soar, it will likely not remain covered. "They should stop, it's adding insult to injury."
Proper hand washing, being particularly conscientious when using public restrooms and gym equipment and covering any cuts and abrasions will help protect against MRSA, said Heavin. The public health officer also recommends that people with fair skin use mild but not anti-bacterial soaps, such as Dove, Ivory or Neutrogena.
Though MRSA does not respond to traditional antibiotics, it is treatable with topical creams and in some circumstances lancing. Though the infection can be painful, health officials say MRSA is typically non-life threatening to individuals with a healthy immune system.
"The important part is not to mash on the boils," said Heavin, who warns that picking at infected areas may force MRSA into the bloodstream, causing a more serious condition. He recommends covering soars and boils with a warm, moist compress and allowing them to heal and drain naturally.
Local schools are also trying to get the word out. As national media attention was focused on MRSA in 2007, the Greencastle School Corporation began distributing information about the infection to parents and staff. The school has also been taking extra measures to curb its spread.
According to Custis, custodial staff at the high school are paying close attention to washing walls and surfaces, and disinfecting high-risk areas such as athletic locker rooms and wrestling mats.
"We're trying to be proactive," Custis said. "We don't want to overreact, but we don't want to ignore something that could become a more serious problem."
Custis recommends that concerned parents and community members seek out information about preventing MRSA from the CDC and the Indiana Department of Education and Department of Health websites.
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