Question of the Week

October 29, 2007


Staph infections have been in the news recently, but they are not new.

"Staph is short for Staphylococcus, a type of bacteria. There are over 30 types, but Staphylococcus aureus causes most staph infections, including
  * Skin infections
  * Pneumonia
  * Food poisoning
  * Toxic shock syndrome
  * Blood poisoning (bacteremia)
Skin infections are the most common. They can look like pimples or boils. They may be red, swollen and painful, and sometimes have pus or other drainage. They can turn into impetigo, which turns into a crust on the skin, or cellulitis, a swollen, red area of skin that feels hot. Anyone can get a staph skin infection. You are more likely to get one if you have a cut or scratch, or have contact with a person or surface that has staph bacteria. The best way to prevent staph is to keep hands and wounds clean. Most staph skin infections are easily treated with antibiotics or by draining the infection. Some staph bacteria are resistant to certain antibiotics, making infections harder to treat."

While "[m]ost staph skin infections are easily treated with antibiotics or by draining the infection. Some staph bacteria are resistant to certain antibiotics, making infections harder to treat. ..."

"While most MSRA [Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus] infections occur in hospitals, the number and severity of infections in the community appears to be increasing. 'Some 30 percent of people have staph bacteria on their skin,' Hageman said. 'The extent to which it is growing in the community is just being defined.' Hageman's assessment of the problem follows publication this week of a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that found that MRSA staph infections are more common, both in and out of hospitals, than experts had once thought. More people died in 2005 from MRSA infections in the United States than from AIDS, the journal noted."

MRSA has been infecting those in hospitals for years. Recently, the MRSA bacteria have been making the news for temporarily closing schools and infecting (even taking the lives of) children and teens from preschool through college.

"[S]tudents in school districts in at least six states have been infected with MRSA, and three of the children have died. Ashton Bonds, 17, of Bedford, Va., died Monday as a result of infection. Preschooler Catherine Bentley of Salisbury, N.H., and Shae Kiernan, 11, of Vancleave, Miss., both died from infections last week."

In an attempt to keep their students safe, schools with suspect cases are closing their doors to clean.

"Thompson Middle School in Southfield was to close at 11:30 a.m. today, after a student was diagnosed with Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. A crew will be brought in this afternoon to sanitize the school, said Ken Siver, deputy superintendent for Southfield Public Schools. The district this month closed MacArthur K-8 University Academy after a MRSA case was confirmed, Siver said. Health officials this morning cautioned against closing schools, saying simply removing the student and disinfecting is often sufficient. 'You might need to take that one student out of school, but you dont need to close the whole school down,' said Dr. Gregory Holzman, state chief medical executive. Holzman and other health workers said frequent hand washing and not sharing clothing and personal products can prevent MRSAs spread. The bacteria, which enters the body through open wounds or contact with bodily fluids, is resistant to some antibiotics. It can cause symptoms from mild skin irritations to more severe infections that can become deadly. Siver said the district chose to close the school to ensure student safety."

While some argue that disinfecting the school is often enough once the infected student has been removed, others question why those in the school are not taking precautions to daily reduced the spread of disease -- and why the school is not the being cleaned more thoroughly on a regular basis, even before there has been a suspected case of infection. In some schools, preventative measures are being taken...

"Health officials at the University of Colorado at Boulder are urging students, faculty and staff to be vigilant in their daily hygiene, frequently washing their hands and wiping down shared athletic equipment following detection and treatment of eight cases of community-associated MRSA, or Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus, at the Wardenburg Health Center. ...
* Cleaning all residence hall restrooms with a hospital-grade disinfectant. ...
* In the CU Recreation Center and in the team facilities used by student-athletes, advisories are being posted in workout areas advising more frequent cleaning of equipment. ...
* Advisories are being posted in residence halls to educate students about community-associated MRSA infections and prevention methods. Similar warnings have been posted in all athletic facilities and common areas on campus. ...
* Training, education and cleanliness procedures are being stepped up among staff in appropriate areas. Custodians are reviewing cleaning protocols and disinfecting surfaces such as door knobs, phones and multiuser athletic equipment ...
* In addition to advising all students, staff and faculty to follow good hand-washing and hygiene practices, health experts are advising people not to share personal items such as towels, razors, soap bars, washcloths and clothing. People are advised to practice frequent hand washing, keep living environments clean and to cover any lesions or abscesses to prevent spread of infection."

Questions of the Week:
What do you, your peers, and your family members need to know about staph infections and how they are spread? What can you do to reduce your chances of getting a staph infection? If you suspect that you might have a staph infection, what should you do to limit the spread to others, and when should you seek medical attention? What precautions should gyms, schools, hospitals, and other businesses and organizations be taking to reduce the chances of those staph infections spreading? How should these businesses and organizations respond when an infection is reported?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

Request Question of the Week by email 
QoW Archives: 9/2002 - 8/2003 9/2003 - 8/2004 9/2004 - 8/2005 9/2005 - 8/2006 9/2006 - present

Custom Search on the AE Site