The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 29, 2009

Infection fight shifts to schools

By Wayne Laepple

While antibiotic-resistant staph infections, known as MRSA, are typically associated with health-care facilities, more than 1-in-10 cases involve people who acquired the potentially deadly infection in a community setting, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Among community settings, schools, and in particular, their athletic programs, can provide the staph bacteria with fertile breeding grounds and a means to quickly move from one victim to another, health officials say.

Concerns about MRSA were raised by a parent at a recent Selinsgrove school board meeting, and school officials there said that after a spate of MRSA cases in 2008, the district beefed up its preventative measures in an effort to keep the problem in check.

Other school and fitness centers in the region echoed the view of Selinsgrove officials.

As a result of concerns about both H1N1 flu virus and MRSA/staph, Milton schools have increased their cleaning procedures, said Rod Harris, athletic director, even though it hasn’t been an issue thus far.

“We’ve increased the frequency of maintenance staff wiping down handrails, door knobs and other areas frequently touched by many people,” said Harris. “These are all being wiped down twice a day now.”

Daily cleaning

In the locker rooms and weight rooms, equipment is washed and wiped down on a daily basis, and athletic trainers are keeping an eye on any cuts and lesions reported by students.

“We have sanitizing foam agents available for individual use in all these areas,” Harris said.

A Journal of American Medical Association study found that there were almost 100,000 MRSA cases in 2005, including almost 20,000 cases in which the patient died. A Pennsylvania Department of Health spokeswoman said the state does not compile data about the number of MRSA cases.

MRSA infections are most often transmitted by direct physical contact with a break in the skin and are easily spread from one person to another.

Careful patrons

According to Rich Hess, executive director and fitness trainer at the Middlecreek Area Community Center in Beaver Springs, there have been no instances of the infection at the center.

“Our patrons are being very careful,” he said.

The fitness room at the center has wipes and paper towels available, and patrons are asked to wipe down exercise equipment when they finish their workouts.

“When our kids come in for the after-school program, the first thing they do is drop their backpacks and wash their hands,” Hess said.

Officials at area hospitals report they have not seen an increase in people with MRSA/staph infections coming to their emergency rooms for treatment.

Bonnie Wassmer, executive director of the Greater Susquehanna Valley YMCA, said janitorial workers at both the Sunbury and Milton branches clean and disinfect equipment daily, and all patrons are expected to wipe down exercise equipment when they are finished with it.

“Our members know they are expected to do this, and most do it willingly,” said Wassmer. “They understand the consequences of this infection.”