Staving off staph

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First of all, don't panic.

There is no killer superbug attacking our kids.

The death of a Virginia teenager from a staph infection - and the coincidental release of a medical study that staph infections kill 19,000 people each year - have sent people into a dither, no thanks to a media blitz bordering on irresponsibility.

Excessive treatment might even worsen the problem, making the staph even more drug-resistant. Again, don't panic.

Staphylococcus aureus is a common bacteria that is carried on the skin of 30 percent of the population. Methicillin-resistent Staphylococcus aureus is a strain of this bacteria that, over the past several decades, has developed a resistance to antibiotics - the Virginia teen died from a spreading infection caused by this bacterium. It is found in 1 percent of the population, and is found mainly in hospitals, nursing homes and other health-care settings. Most of the deaths occur there because their patients usually have a weakened immune system.

These infections, usually mild, show up as boils, or open sores that are commonly misdiagnosed as spider bites. If untreated, the infection can spread to the blood, organs or bones, becoming life-threatening.

Health-care officials say that, while is doesn't hurt, the closing and frantic bleaching of schools where an outbreak occurs is not necessary. If one kid is a carrier, he or she likely will bring the bug back once the school reopens.

Instead, they recommend commonsense sanitary measures. Keep open wounds and sores clean and covered - see a doctor if they don't heal. Use a barrier, such as a towel, when using shared equipment. Clean and properly disinfect this equipment daily. Wash shared linens in hot water.

Most of all, they preach what your mother always did: Wash your hands with soap and warm water, frequently. But don't overuse antibacterial hand wipes and sanitizers. That's partly how the bacteria get drug-resistant in the first place.

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