Health officials from New York city confirmed yesterday that a seventh grade male student who died on the 14th of October had MRSA, a highly infectious drug resistant form of staph bacteria that normally occurs in hospitals and nursing homes but is now beginning to take hold in community based places such as sports centres, schools and gyms. It has become known as CA-MRSA, or community-acquired MRSA.
MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that normally causes skin infections and has become resistant to penicillin and other antibiotics. Most people make a full recovery with treatment, but sometimes, if the bacteria gets into the bloodstream through a cut for instance, and the person has a weak immune system, it can lead to serious illness and death.
Health officials said they were not able to establish if the student, who attended an intermediate school in Canarsie, Brooklyn, picked up the infection in school or somewhere else.
According to the New York Times, the school has informed all parents by letter of the student’s death and that the school had been cleaned thoroughly. The letter also explained how to reduce the spread of MRSA by frequent hand washing.
The young man’s death comes after a number of reports throughout the US of students infected with CA-MRSA. So far three deaths have been reported, but in the majority of cases the illnesses have been mild and once treated the students made a full recovery.
According to the New York Times, because doctors are not required to report bacterial infections originating outside hospitals and nursing homes, health officials find it very difficult to establish if the apparent rise in cases is real or due to heigthened awareness.
New York City’s Board of Health is currently considering whether to make the reporting of bacterial infections acquired outside hospitals mandatory or not.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on its MRSA in Schools website says that the decision to close a school for any communicable disease (including MRSA) lies with school officials and local or state public healt authorities.
But they point out in most cases it is not necessary to close a school because one student becomes infected with MRSA, and they stress the importance of hand hygiene and covering infections as a way to stop the spread of the disease.
The CDC recommends that:
- When MRSA skin infections occur, surfaces that are likely to come into contact with infections should be cleaned and disinfected.
- MRSA can be effectively removed by cleaning surfaces with a detergent-based or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – registered disinfectant.
- People should read instruction labels on cleaning agents carefully to make sure they are used safely and correctly.
- Infections should not be treated with cleaners and disinfectants intended for surfaces.
- MRSA skin infections should be covered with clean dry bandages until healed and the healthcare provider’s instructions on wound care should be followed carefully.
- Pus from an infected would can contain infectious bacteria so keeping it covered stops it spreading to others.
- It’s OK to throw soiled bandages and tape out with the regular trash.
- Wash hands frequently with soap and water or clean with an alcohol-based sanitizer, especially after changing wound dressings or touching an infected site. Other people who are in close contact with someone who is infected should also take extra care with hand hygiene.
- People should not share personal items such as towels, washcloths, clothes, razors, that may have come into contact with an infected wound or bandage.
- Wash soiled clothes, towels and bed linen with water and laundry detergent. Dry clothes thoroughly in a drier.
Written by: Catharine Paddock