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School system reports more MRSA cases

COVINGTON - The Newton County School System has five documented cases of individuals with MRSA, a drug-resistant strain of staph infection, the system reported Wednesday afternoon.

"This includes three students and two staff members, each at different schools," said Sherri Viniard, director of public relations for NCSS, in an e-mail about MRSA, or methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus.

The schools include: Middle Ridge Elementary, Alcovy High, Palmer Stone Elementary, Ficquett Elementary and West Newton Elementary.

"Each person has received the appropriate treatment and has been medically cleared to return to school and is, in fact, already back at school," she said. "In each school where a case of MRSA was confirmed, we thoroughly cleaned and disinfected the school with a product that kills MRSA."

Deborah Robertson, associate superintendent for administration at NCSS, said at Tuesday's Board of Education work session that an administrator and head custodian from all 20 of Newton County's schools attended a training session Monday "to make certain that everyone is following the appropriate protocol in cleaning the schools."

The product used is EPA-registered to "kill the MRSA virus on porous and nonporous surfaces," she said.

"The manufacturer's representative is following up with all schools to ensure that the proper use and directions for using the product are understood," her administrative services report reads.

Also, all school nurses and principals have written guidelines for prevention and precautionary measures, said Linda Hayden, associate superintendent for instruction, at Tuesday's work session.

"An informational letter regarding MRSA and the preventative measures that parents can take was sent home to all parents," Hayden's report reads. "A second letter was developed for use when a school experiences an outbreak of staph infections."

Viniard said school nurses will contact parents if there is a concern about a student and that schools are informing students and parents about the infection.

"We emphasize and continually educate the students, staff and parents on the importance of washing hands, not sharing personal items and following up with medical attention if symptoms of any illness, not just MRSA, should arise," she said.

Vernon Goins, spokesman for the East Metro Health District, which includes Newton, Rockdale and Gwinnett counties, said earlier that approximately 30 percent of the population are carriers of MRSA.

He said Wednesday that so far in 2007, 11 cases of MRSA has been reported from Newton County. In 2006, he said the entire East Metro Health District had 62 cases reported. So far, in 2007, 49 cases have been reported.

"We are on pace to be fewer than last year," Goins said.

He 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 MRSA incidents.

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

Even though antibiotics may not be effective against MRSA, Goins said staph still is 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 appears like a spider bite, but can develop into boils, blisters or rashes.

Rockdale Citizen Staff Reporter Jay Jones contributed to this article.

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

SideBar: At a glance

MRSA, methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus, is a strain of staph bacteria that does not respond to penicillin and related antibiotics, but can be treated with other drugs. The infection can be spread by skin-to-skin contact or through sharing an item used by an infected person, particularly one with an open wound.

Below, the East Metro Health District, which includes Newton, Rockdale and Gwinnett counties, offered these preventative steps individuals can take to reduce the risk of infection.

' Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water or using an alcohol-based sanitizer.

' Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed.

' Avoid contact with other people's wounds or bandages.

' Don't share personal items such as towels or razors.

Source: East Metro Health District