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Don't panic over staph case at school
A Hernando County child has MRSA. But it's treatable, and not an epidemic, officials say.
By ERIN SULLIVAN, Times Staff Writer
Published November 3, 2007
SPRING HILL - Roger Sanderson wants the media to stop scaring people. He's an epidemiologist in Tampa for the Florida Department of Health. As an expert on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (the villainous MRSA that's been in the headlines), he's really frustrated.
"It's a media epidemic," he said Friday, after news came out that a Hernando County student had been diagnosed with MRSA. "Not a health care epidemic."
Earlier this week there were reports that a student possibly had been infected with MRSA, which prompted a scrubdown of Deltona Elementary School. Because a diagnosis of MRSA includes a lab culture from the patient, the confirmation took a few days. The child's identity and medical status have not been released. It has not been confirmed that the child is a student at Deltona.
"This (MRSA) has been around awhile, and it is something the health care community can definitely treat," said Ann-Gayl Ellis, public information officer for the Hernando County Department of Health.
Most of us carry some form of staph bacteria. What makes MRSA worrisome is that it's resistant to various antibiotics, though there are several that can be used to combat it. Health care professionals have known about MRSA for decades, though public awareness of it jumped recently after a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association said MRSA is more prevalent than previously thought.
The study said that MRSA was found about 95,000 times in 2005 and may have contributed to more than 18,000 U.S. deaths.
But Sanderson, the Florida epidemiologist, said the media latched onto those statistics without understanding what they meant.
"There is a lot of anxiety and panic out there that is uncalled for," he said. "Get rid of the word 'superbug.' "
He said the study was done on people who were in hospitals with various illnesses and that the MRSA was in their blood, which can be serious. He also said that it is not known whether MRSA was the sole cause for those deaths - or a contributing factor, as the people were already sick.
The MRSA that the general population usually gets - the kind to be aware of - is through skin-to-skin contact.
"If somebody gets a skin infection, the great majority of those can be treated by a primary care physician without ever having to go to the hospital," Sanderson said. "A small percent may proceed to a more serious infection. But that exception is great."
He said studies have shown that schools are not more high-risk than other places.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nearly all MRSA skin infections can be treated with simple measures, sometimes without antibiotics.
1. Wash your hands.
2. Seriously, wash your hands. With soap and water, and dry them off. Repeat several times during the day.
3. No matter how much you like somebody, do not share towels, razors and such.
4. If you have a cut, treat it properly and cover it. If it is infected, and getting worse, see a physician promptly.
5. Clean. This means your home, school, gym and workplace. A regular disinfectant from the grocery store will work fine. Just use it.
6. Don't freak out. Yes, MRSA is serious, but to the general population, it's no cause for panic.