Staph cases hit 11

Eleven students in nine Columbia County schools have confirmed cases of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, administrators said Tuesday. But medical experts on the disease said that number is not unusual and they are not seeing an increase in cases.

 

The bacteria are already spread throughout the community, and people might now just be recognizing it and correctly diagnosing it, infectious disease physicians said.

The Columbia County cases were discovered in the past week among students at Evans, Greenbrier, Harlem and Lakeside high schools; Grovetown, Riverside and Greenbrier middle schools; and Grovetown and Blue Ridge elementary schools, said Sandra Carraway, the school system's deputy superintendent. She said one or two students at each of these schools have a confirmed case of MRSA.

"These children are being treated, and there is no cause for undue alarm," she said.

Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says infected individuals can be in public as long as their lesions are covered, the school system has recommended that these students stay home from school until their lesions are no longer draining and pose no threat to classmates.

"When you have a school environment as large as ours, there's no need to take any risk," Dr. Carraway said.

She said the schools are sending letters to notify students who have been exposed to infected individuals.

MRSA is a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to certain common antibiotics. The kind most likely involved in skin infections is called community-acquired MRSA, and it can lead to a life-threatening pneumonia or blood infection, but that is rare, said James Wilde, the medical director of the pediatric Emergency Department at Medical College of Georgia Children's Medical Center.

"If it's a community-acquired MRSA infection, it is easily treated," he said. "And the vast majority of patients treated appropriately do just fine."

The infections are often tender red, weepy sores and are most often misdiagnosed as spider bites. The recent publicity about a more invasive form of the bacteria and more education could account for the recent spate of cases, said Jack Austin, an infectious disease physician at University Hospital.

"Is it just that our awareness of this is more now and that the kids and the parents are now reporting this to the school officials?" Dr. Austin asked. "Plus the physicians now are finally getting it that ... these are not spider bites and most of them are likely MRSA."

In fact, Dr. Wilde said he sees about five to 10 cases a week, and the number has remained steady for the past year.

"This is not new," he said. "The rate of kids coming in with MRSA is not any higher now than it was a year ago."

A Georgia task force on MRSA that includes Dr. Wilde will meet Friday and is getting ready to send out educational materials to 9,000 physicians in the state.

Good personal hygiene and frequent hand washing are a good prevention for MRSA infections. Despite being around MRSA for the past three or four years, none of the MCG faculty Dr. Wilde has polled has gotten an MRSA infection.

"Why? Because we keep our hands clean," he said. "And because most people who are exposed to it don't get any kind of invasive infection from it."

Dr. Carraway said many of the infected students already were absent, and parents notified school officials about the cases.

In Aiken County, 17 MRSA cases have been confirmed since August. Cecelia Davidson, the associate superintendent for curriculum, did not know how many of the cases are active.

The school system plans to send a letter about MRSA precautions to all parents on Monday. Letters were sent home from North Augusta High and Gloverville Elementary schools earlier this year.

Richmond County has two confirmed cases of staph infection, Superintendent Dana Bedden said Tuesday evening. Some others are unconfirmed pending test results. The confirmed staph infections were at Blythe Elementary and the central office, he said.

Staff writers Julia Sellers and Greg Gelpi contributed to this article.

Reach Betsy Gilliland at (706) 868-1222, ext. 113, or betsy.gilliland@augustachronicle.com.

STAPH PREVENTION

- Wash hands frequently

- Do not share personal care items such as soap, towels, razors and clothing

- Shower with soap and water immediately after physical activity

- Keep all wounds clean and covered

- Avoid physical contact with others who have open wounds

- Seek medical treatment if you have a sore or lesion that appears infected or does not heal

- Notify school officials of a confirmed MRSA infection

Source: Columbia County Board of Education

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