While there have been no Bryan County cases reported, two Bulloch County students and at least one Savannah Day School student have tested positive for an infection of the antibiotic-resistant staph, otherwise known as MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphyloccoccal aureus.
In addition to these cases, there have been several other cases reported around the state, including five in the Atlanta area. One senior in southern Virginia also reportedly died from the infection in mid-October.
"We encourage all schools to promote a clean environment, with a special focus on athletic areas and sports equipment," said Dr. Diane Weems, Chief Medical Officer for the Coastal Health District. "However, what is happening in our communities with MRSA is not new or unusual, and most MRSA infections will not result in serious illness. MRSA infections are likely occurring daily throughout our counties and have been for years."
MRSA is a type of bacteria that has developed resistance to some antibiotics. In general, staph bacteria are harmless, and can be found in about a third of the general population, said the Coastal Health District. MRSA is a more serious strain of the staph bacteria, and can be found in roughly one percent of the population, according to the Center for Disease Control.
"The recent media attention surrounding the ongoing problem of MRSA provides an opportunity to remind people to take the same precautions we’ve always recommended – good hand washing, body hygiene, a clean environment, as well as seeking medical care when health issues arise. Embracing some basic hygienic practices may be your best defense against MRSA," Weems said Tuesday afternoon.
The message the Coastal Health District wants the community to know is that MRSA does exist, it’s here to stay and there are precautions everyone should take to avoid infection, according to a fact sheet provided by Ginger Heidel, director of public relations for the Coastal Health District.
Bryan County Schools Superintendent Dr. Sallie Brewer said if there is notification of infected students in the district, those parents and students are immediately provided information by the school nurses.
"I have received information from several agencies and have shared that with Mr. (Luke) McGrath, director of Student Services, and our school nurses. Our nurses have a lengthy health protocol that is followed for all diseases," Brewer said.
"Generally, we put together a fact sheet if we have a concern for a particular disease. And if parents are concerned, we can provide that information to them at their request. Or, if a child has been diagnosed with something, we automatically provide the family with that information. We also have purchased cleaning agents that will pretty much kill any type of disease that a child could ever possibly contract," she said, noting the Health Department has backed the cleaning agents the district uses.
Symptoms of MRSA include a skin infection that can look like a pimple or boil and be red, swollen, painful, or have pus or other drainage.
While minor MRSA infections are common, serious illness can develop if infection continues untreated.
"People need to be educated about MRSA and take precautions to avoid infection," the Coastal Health District said. "Healthy people can have MRSA bacteria on their skin or in their body, and not get ill. However, MRSA infection is responsible for many serious skin and soft tissue infections and for a serious form of pneumonia. When not recognized quickly enough and treated properly, the infection can be fatal."
MRSA bacteria are spread through contact, usually by contact with the bacteria on someone else’s skin, or by touching contaminated objects.
The best way to prevent developing an MRSA infection is by frequent and thorough hand washing and by not sharing towels or athletic equipment.
Few outbreaks have been reported in public gyms, but MRSA has spread among athletes who share razors, towels, uniforms or equipment, the Coastal Health District said.
Preventative measures include covering cuts, scrapes, or other wounds with sterile, dry bandages until they heal. Minor skin problems, especially in children, should be watched carefully. If a wound does appear to have become infected, a healthcare provider should be contacted.
For more information, visit the Coastal Health District web site at www.gachd.org or the Center for Disease Control at www.cdc.gov.