School reports a case of staph

COVINGTON - One Newton County elementary school has reported a case of MRSA, a drug-resistant strain of staph infection.

Middle Ridge Elementary School's Principal Karen Crowder sent a letter home to parents Friday announcing that a mother called that afternoon to inform the school that her child had a staph infection.

On Friday, the child's doctor was still uncertain if the infection was MRSA, or methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus, according to the letter.

"It was later confirmed to be MRSA," said Newton County School System Director of Public Relations Sherri Viniard on Tuesday. "All of the items in the child's classroom were thoroughly cleaned on Friday. The classroom was thoroughly cleaned and disinfected from top to bottom including all toys, books and other objects."

Vernon G. Goins, spokesman for the East Metro Health District, said the infection is not so contagious that anything else would have needed to be cleaned.

"The usual method of spreading it is skin-to-skin," he said of staph infections, which are common skin infections in the United States. "Approximately 30 percent of the population are considered to be carriers of it."

The bacteria can also be spread when people come into contact with objects, such as clothing, towels, bedding, gym equipment and bandages, that have been contaminated.

Viniard said the child returned to school Tuesday with the doctor's permission.

Goins said that period of time is normal.

"My guess is that the physician is probably treating a topical wound," he said. "That's a fairly standard procedure."

Viniard said the school system would not release the child's grade level and that no other cases have been reported in the Newton school system.

In October, five middle school students in Henry County were found to have been infected with the drug-resistant staph. Several other Georgia school systems also have reported cases recently.

Rockdale County Public Schools Public Information Officer Cindy Ball said Tuesday that no confirmed cases have been reported there.

Goins said in his 23 years in the health field, it has been his experience that staph infection can be found in any age group.

"It's everywhere," he said. "Most often we see the multiple cases, or clusters, in situations where sports equipment is used."

Goins said a staph infection is not required to be reported to the health department unless the person is hospitalized, and the health department does not require schools to report incidents of MRSA. The health department will advise schools of preventive measures to take if school officials ask, Goins said.

The best defense against staph is basic personal hygiene practices, such as frequent hand washing and keeping skin infections or wounds covered. Cleaning fixtures and equipment that many people come into contact with is also recommended.

Even though antibiotics may not be effective against MRSA, Goins said staph is still treatable, but it may take longer to recover and require a doctor to physically treat the wound.

"Most often the body will fight it off, but sometimes a person with a compromised immune system may have trouble and the bacteria will take advantage of that and set up shop," Goins said.

He advised individuals to seek medical help at the first signs of a staph infection, which often at first appears like a spider bite and can develop into boils, blisters or rashes.

The Middle Ridge parent letter listed guidelines schools should follow for wound care and possible staph infections.

It also advised that all staff should refer any student complaining of a painful skin lesion to the school nurse and urged coaches and athletic trainers to look at any athlete's skin infection before practice or competition.

"After assessing (the) student, the nurse will determine if that student should be referred to their primary care physician for further evaluation," the letter reads. "All skin infections, particularly those that produce pus, must be covered with a clean, dry bandage to contain the drainage while at school."

Any equipment that could have been in contact with the wound will be cleaned with EPA-registered disinfectant cleaner that meets requirements of the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard and supervised by the maintenance department, the letter reads.

The East Metro Health District offers information on MRSA at http://gwinnett.ga.gegov.com/gwinnett/content/MRSA.pdf.

Rockdale Citizen Staff Reporter Jay Jones contributed to this article.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.