Washington County schools confirm staph case

October 23, 2007|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN ? One case of a drug-resistant bacteria has been confirmed at a public school in Washington County, and the health department has reported at least three other cases of a less severe bacteria at two schools.

Washington County Public Schools spokesman Will Kauffman said there is a case of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) at a county school. Kauffman would not disclose whether the person suffering from the infection is a student, and he would not say which school the report came from.

"We want to avoid putting undue attention on any one school," he said.

MRSA is a type of infection that is resistant to certain antibiotics. Staphylococcus aureus, commonly called staph, is a bacteria that can cause skin infections that look like pimples or boils.

Kauffman said that precautions are being taken at all schools, and he cited confidentiality as the reason for not offering more details.


Health department spokesman Rod MacRae said staph has infected two students at Salem Avenue Elementary and at least one student at Lincolnshire Elementary.

Another student at Lincolnshire is being tested for the bacteria, and those results should be known by the end of the week.

MacRae said he believes all four students are being treated, and the health department is working with Washington County Public Schools to ensure the bacteria does not spread.

"Staph infections are really common," MacRae said. "We don't know how common because it's not (reportable)."

This year, two MRSA outbreaks have been reported at schools in Maryland, according to the state's Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. An outbreak is defined as three or more cases within several weeks, according to state spokesman John Hammond.

In 2006, two schools in Maryland also reported outbreaks of the type of staph infection that cannot be treated with antibiotics. Two prisons, a hospital and one nursing home also reported MRSA outbreaks that year.

MacRae said data on staph infections is not reported in Washington County, but he said there has not been an outbreak at a school in Washington County.

"We don't have any idea how many infections there are in the community," he said. "I don't think anyone does."

MacRae said that last year someone at Bester Elementary had a confirmed MRSA infection, and more than one month ago, someone at Boonsboro Middle reported the same infection.

He said he believes that staph infections have been reported this school year at Northern Middle, Pangborn Elementary and Washington County Technical High School. Recent cases at Lincolnshire and Salem Avenue were added to that list.

Paramount Elementary also had a report of MRSA, but MacRae said he wasn't sure when that person was infected.

MacRae said information about staph infections and MRSA are not required to be reported.

Hammond said staph infection data also is not available for the state, which only keeps records of MRSA outbreaks.

MacRae said the health department's school nurses are working with the medical issues, and officials are offering tips to the school system so the infection is not spread throughout the schools.

Kauffman said a letter should be sent home to parents of Washington County Public Schools students today telling them about the most recent MRSA infection. That letter has details, he said, about actions being taken at all schools to ensure that additional children, teachers and staff are not infected.

He said that more vigorous cleaning is taking place at all schools, especially common areas like locker rooms and cafeterias.

Staph Q&A

Q: What is staphylococcus aureus (staph)?

A: Staph is a type of bacteria that can cause skin infections that look like pimples or boils. Skin infections caused by staph can be red, swollen, painful or have pus or other drainage. Some staph are resistant to certain antibiotics.

Q: Who gets staph infections?

A: Anyone can get a staph infection. People are more likely to get a staph infection if they have skin-to-skin contact with someone who has a staph infection, contact with items and surfaces that have staph on them, openings in their skin like cuts or scrapes, crowded living conditions or poor hygiene.

Q: How serious are staph infections?

A: Most staph infections are minor and can be easily treated. Staph also can cause more serious infections, like infections of the bloodstream, surgical sites or pneumonia.

Q: How are staph infections treated?

A: Treatment for a staph infection can include taking an antibiotic or having a doctor drain the infection.

Q: How do I keep staph infections from spreading?

A: Wash hands often or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Keep cuts and scrapes clean and cover them with bandages. Do not touch other people's cuts or bandages. Do not share personal items like towels or razors.

? Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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