Monday, November 19, 2007

TOP STORY >>Schools clean up as staph virus spreading

Leader staff writer

In the wake of the Palestine-Wheatley school closures Tuesday after a student contracted a staph infection resistant to antibiotics, Beebe schools are taking an aggressive approach since a staph case was diagnosed in a high school student there Wednesday, while other local schools are taking some precautions against the bacteria.
“Yes, we have had a couple of staph infections, not the real serious kind,” Beebe Superintendent Belinda Shook said.
She said two middle school students had staph earlier this year, and the high school student went to a doctor for treatment and will be back to school next week.

Shook said she wasn’t sure how the staph was acquired.

She said the schools already take precautionary measures during the fall because it’s flu season.

The district is reminding people to wash hands and plans to put hand sanitizers in classrooms, she said.

“We’re putting out sanitizer. Most classrooms have it anyway,” she said.

At the middle school, anti-bacterial sanitizer sits outside the cafeteria. She said every child uses it before entering the meal room.

“We have encouraged the custodial department to disinfect and clean real well,” she said.

At Monday’s Beebe School Board meeting, member Lucy Mahoney suggested schools have disinfectant sprays to get rid of any harmful staph bacteria.

The Arkansas Department of Health reported that many parents across the state have expressed concern over the cleanliness of schools after an outbreak of community-acquired staph infections, heightened by the Palestine-Wheatley closures.
 ADH downplayed the seriousness of the infections in a notice sent to schools, calling antibiotic staph infections “nothing new.”

“We have received numerous calls from parents who are concerned that their schools aren’t closing and cleaning in order to prevent the spread of staph infections,” said Dr. James Phillips, branch chief of infectious diseases at ADH.

The antibiotic-resistant methicillin-resistant staph infection (MRSA) can cause severe infections and even death in otherwise healthy people. MRSA is also harder to treat than other staph infections.

Pulaski County Special School District is following the ADH advisory, which recommended parents tell their children to wash their hands because the transmission of the antibiotic-resistant staph is by person-to-person contact.

The Cabot School District posted the ADH information on its Web site, even though a Cabot student hasn’t had staph since earlier this year, when an elementary student acquired it.

“We sent out flyers earlier in the year to athletes. We were taking proactive, preventive steps to let people know not to panic,” health services director Robert Martin said.

Martin said the elementary school student was hospitalized and has been taught at home since the infection. There are currently no imminent cases or hospitalizations, Martin said.

“Coaches and custodial staff are well-versed. If kids are lifting weights, disinfect weights and (if) using towels, carry the towels,” Martin said. “If you have a sore don’t share towels,” he said.

“Education is the key here, and good personal hygiene is at the core of our messages for students,” Philips said.

At least 95 percent of community-acquired MRSA infections appear on the skin or in the soft tissues. Most of these infections start out looking like a pimple or spider bite and may develop into boils or soft tissue infection.

ADH recommends a physician visit for anyone concerned about developing a staph infection.

Cover all wounds with clean bandages, wash hands often, take frequent showers and practice good hygiene.

No staph infections have been reported at Pinewood, Bayou Meto, Jacksonville, Tolleson or Lawson elementary schools. PCSSD did not return phone calls for this article.

Karen Cook, nurse at Jacksonville and Pinewood elementary schools, said she has seen three cases this year but none in the last six weeks.

“We are encouraging hand washing and teachers are encouraged to clean rooms and use disinfectant,” she said.

She added that staph is passed from person to person, not through objects such as desks, and good hygiene is the best preventative against the bacteria.

“As long as children are washing hands and cleaning hands it shouldn’t be a problem,” she said.

Hand washing is being encouraged in Lonoke schools, too.

“The district continues to stress washing hands often and daily cleaning of facilities where infections might be spread,” Superintendent Sharron Havens said.