Staph infections: a spreading concern

Antibiotic-resistant staph infections have come into the public
eye in recent weeks, with the deadly

superbug

causing nationwide scares. But local healthcare officials are
saying while the bug is quite common, the best way to prevent its
spread is through standard hygiene.
Antibiotic-resistant staph infections have come into the public eye in recent weeks, with the deadly “superbug” causing nationwide scares. But local healthcare officials are saying while the bug is quite common, the best way to prevent its spread is through standard hygiene.

Gaining the most attention has been the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which causes the most serious infections. In mid-October, it was reported that this germ had caused more deaths each year in the United States than AIDS.

There have been no reported deaths from MRSA in San Benito County and no reported cases at local schools. MRSA infections, though, have been reported at several Bay Area schools in recent weeks.

At nearby Gilroy High School on Wednesday, the wrestling room has been closed down since Oct. 23. That’s when school officials found out wrestling coach Mike Koester had been infected with MRSA. He was admitted to Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital on Friday. Koester blamed the dirty high school wrestling room for his infection.

Kathleen Boulware, a supervising public health nurse with the San Benito County Public Health Division, said one of the difficulties with the disease is that it’s difficult to know the exact number or people who have gotten the staph infection – or even the number of people who have died.

Hospitals and doctors’ offices aren’t required to report incidents of the infection, Boulware said, so it’s difficult to know how many cases of MRSA there are in the county.

She estimates there were around one or two reported cases a month in San Benito County.

Hazel Hawkins Hospital officials were unable to provide the number of infections reported at their hospital or nursing homes as of press time.

“When dealing with a disease that’s not reportable, it’s really hard to get a handle on it,” said Dr. Liz Falade, health officer with the county’s public health division.

Staphylococcus aureus are bacteria on the skin. The staph bacteria are the leading cause of skin infections in the U.S. Because of the extensive use of antibiotics to treat the bacteria, the strain has become immune to methicillin.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 94,000 serious infections and 19,000 deaths due to MRSA each year.

Most of the time the infections are fairly minor, and they used to occur primarily in hospitals. But they are becoming more common outside healthcare facilities, Boulware said.

“It’s out there in the community,” Falade said.

Falade said preventing its spread throughout the community is “really a hygiene thing.”

She said it’s important to remember to wash hands frequently and cover and clean any skin lesions.

Because of the outbreaks in schools, there have been some concerns about hygiene in locker rooms and with athletic equipment.

Jim Koenig, director of finance and operations with San Benito High School District, said there were no reports of the infection there at this time.

“We’re just beginning to look at what measures we might take,” he said.

Koenig said the school would also be contacting its athletic trainer to talk about precautionary measures.

Falade said although the microbe can be spread through skin-to-skin contact, it’s difficult to prevent any of this – especially in children.

“As far as your kids going to school: Kids play sports that are contact – there’s nothing you can do to change that, except really just cover the boo-boos,” Falade said.

Older people and those that aren’t healthy are most susceptible to getting an invasive case of MRSA, Boulware said. This can cause pneumonia and bloodstream infections that can lead to death.

Most people, however, should simply keep an eye on any skin infections that become irritated or infected and contact a doctor if it appears to get worse.

“This is not something that’s new – it’s not something that came out of the woodwork yesterday,” Boulware said. “The big thing here is to take precautions not to spread it.”

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