Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008

Health experts: Staph infection an increasing problem

Wootton High School student contracts MRSA

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A student at Thomas S. Wootton High School was recently diagnosed with a staph infection that is resistant to many common antibiotics, according to school officials.

The student, who was diagnosed with the infection the weekend of Feb. 9-10, has been successfully treated for methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, according to a Feb. 13 letter to parents from Wootton Principal Michael Doran.

MRSA has been increasing over the past few years in the community, according to medical professionals at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital. Commonly known for infecting hospital patients, community-acquired MRSA is distinct from the type commonly treated in hospitals, said Michael Sauri, an infectious disease consultant at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.

‘‘This is a community problem. It’s community-based and it’s community-spread,” Sauri said. ‘‘Any actions that are going to help prevent this have to be taken at the community level.”

The community-acquired type of staph infection is common in young people, Sauri said. Since the disease is often contracted via skin-to-skin contact, areas like schools where large numbers of people, especially athletes, are in close contact with each other are often breeding grounds for community-acquired MRSA, Sauri said.

The Wootton student’s doctor had no indication as to where the disease could have been contracted, said Doran, who has spoken with the student’s family.

‘‘It could have been at school, it could have been at an after-school activity, it could have been outside the school, it could have been in the home,” Doran said. ‘‘There’s nothing that gave the doctor a clue.”

Concerns about MRSA in Montgomery County Public Schools were first spurred in October when more than two-dozen cases were reported in the school system. As of Feb. 11, there had been 56 cases of MRSA reported in MCPS students, most of whom have fully recovered. Two of those cases continued to be treated, according to Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services. Merry King, a special education teacher at Hoover Middle School, died of the infection in December.

MRSA is not reported in Maryland hospitals, and cases of MRSA in schools often come to light because those cases are documented, Anderson said.

‘‘MRSA is out there in the community, and not just in schools,” Anderson said. ‘‘We’re hearing about it through the schools because parents are letting the school folks know.”

The Wootton case is the first known case at the school, according Doran’s letter. The student was absent from school Feb. 11 and returned to school Feb. 13; schools were closed Feb. 12, Doran said.

Doran said he received confirmation that the student was cleared medically to attend school. The school building is being disinfected as a precautionary measure.

‘‘We’ve made sure that classrooms he was in were doubly cleaned, and focused on those rooms even more than the rest of the school,” Doran said.

The school is sharing information about MRSA with the school community and encouraging students to take precautions.

Skin infections resulting from staph bacteria can resemble a pimple or boil and can be red, swollen or painful. Community-acquired MRSA infections can be successfully treated with certain types of antibiotics, but health professionals stress that early detection is key to treating the disease successfully.

‘‘It does have a significant increase in virulence if you delay too long,” Sauri said.

Montgomery County Public Schools have encouraged students and parents to report suspicious cuts or wounds.

Health officials also emphasize prevention. Hand washing, keeping lesions clean and covered, and avoiding sharing personal items are effective methods of warding off MRSA.

‘‘Good hygiene is the best prevention, and we have seen an increase in students [at Wootton] washing their hands,” Doran said. ‘‘I think they’ve gotten the message.”

To learn more

As part of a statewide initiative by the Maryland Hospital Association, several hospitals have organized community education forums to discuss MRSA concerns. Forums in Montgomery County will be held:

From 7-9 p.m. March 3 at the Universities of Shady Grove Building 1 Auditorium, 9630 Gudelsky Drive, Rockville. This forum is organized by Shady Grove Adventist Hospital. For more information, call 301-279-6000 or visit⁄SGAH⁄ .

From 7-9 p.m. March 5 at the Professional and Community Education Center Auditoriums A & C at Holy Cross Hospital, 1500 Forest Glen Road, Silver Spring. For more information call 301-754-8800. or visit http:⁄⁄⁄

From 6:30-8:30 p.m. March 13 at Suburban Hospital, 8600 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda. Registration is required for this event. Please call 301-896-3939 to register or e-mail

From 6:30-8 p.m. March 18 at Montgomery General Hospital, 18101 Prince Philip Drive, Olney. Registration is required for this event. To register, call 301-774-8881. For more information, visit

From 7-9 p.m. March 26 at the Washington Adventist Hospital, 7600 Carroll Ave., Takoma Park. For more information, call 301-891-7600 or visit⁄WAH