Staph Infections Still a Threat

Awareness and Precautions Being Stressed in Metro Communities

Last December, news reporters began telling the story of Merry King, a middle-aged special education teacher at Herbert Hoover Middle School in Montgomery County, MD who died from Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureusa (MRSA, a form of staph infection that is resistant to antibiotics and has symptoms which include sties, boils, and pulse filled pimples.

Sties, pimples, and boils are common skin infections caused by bacteria and are usually not taken seriously. Many people do not take immediate action and it is becoming increasingly apparent that maybe they should because these common skin infections may be brought on by contagious bacteria known as Staphylococcus aureus (staph) in one of its worse stages.

Following the death of King, many other cases of staph infections in schools were reported in the D.C. metropolitan area. Many of the students who tested positive for staph infection were treated and their health was not in serious danger. Schools still have been on edge and are worried about the rise in the students infected as more reports of severe cases are being reported.

“We are seeing a significant increase in the number of patients with community acquired MRSA,” says Schmuel Shoham, director of Transplant Infectious Diseases at Washington Hospital Center in Northwest D.C. “It’s thought that this germ has mutated.”

School officials in Lynch Station, VA closed 21 schools after a student, Ashton Bonds, was hospitalized after becoming infected with MRSA. He died a week later. Gazette.net, Maryland’s online news source, reported that health officials say schools in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland are seeing a large increase in the number of students becoming infected with staph. Gazatte.net also confirmed that in Montgomery County, MD there has been more than 56 related staph cases reported since February 11. It is becoming a serious epidemic because a large number of those cases are infected by MRSA.

Schools in the Washington, D.C. area use guidelines given by the Department Health to try to prevent the spreading of the bacteria in their schools. Michelle Rhee, chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, informed local media that principals would send out letters to the homes of all students advising parents of the threat. Students are informed of how to protect themselves from contracting the infection. Washing hands is one of the most important precautions that is stressed.

More than 25 cases of staph infection have been reported in several counties surrounding D.C. The majority of those cases have been reported in Montgomery, Prince Williams, and Fairfax counties. One known case involving a faculty member at Davis Elementary School in Southeast D.C. was reported. The Seed Public Charter School, also located in Southeast was closed in late October from a possible case of staph infection.

Rosetta Johnson, a nurse at Amidon Elementary School in the Southwest Waterfront area of Ward 6 informs students at the beginning of the school year on how to practice good hygiene. The school has had no known record of a student or faculty member being infected with staph.

“We have signs posted up in the cafeteria and the restrooms,” says John Goudax, principal at Amidon Elementary School, “and teachers have hand sanitizer in the classrooms.”

According to the Center for Disease Control, students are not the only ones targeted by the bacterial infection. Athletes and gay men are also said to be two other groups that are being hit hard by staph infections. Some ethnic groups such as Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Pacific Islanders are more prone to getting the infection, as well as people with weak immune systems.

Most staph and MRSA cases can be taken care of with antibiotics if treated in proper time. Some cases of staph or MRSA can be cured by draining the pimple or boil, however, the CDC encourages infected persons to have this done by a physician.

“It requires a physician to stop the infection. Don’t try to treat it yourself,” warns Dr. Warren K. Ashe at Howard University’s School of Medicine.

Staph infections can be easily avoided by practicing good hygiene. The CDC has sent out memorandums to many schools and universities with precautions to avoid getting infected. Washing your hands often is a good way of avoiding becoming infected. People are advised not to share personal items and to avoid contact with the wounds and sores of others .

“Don’t have particular contact with someone,” Dr. Ashe said. “Be careful about who you shake hands with.”