By Johnny Jackson
Though there have been no new cases of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), health officials are urging the public to practice good hygiene.
"It is technically a totally preventable disease," said Lonnie Reeder, director of Infection Control at Southern Regional Hospital.
She said people can avoid contracting MRSA, a contagious and potentially dangerous strain of staph infection, through cleanliness - washing hands with soap and water and keeping work surfaces clean.
Staph infections are generally common, but for the past three or four years, the number of reported MRSA cases have increased in communities where the infection had not typically been found before, Reeder says.
"It's been around since about 1968," she said. "The difference is that it used to be in a different population, and now it is more prevalent in healthy populations, like school children."
Community Associated MRSA, which can cause infections in people with healthy immune systems, has increased by 11 percent in the past four years.
Reeder says the increase in reported MRSA cases is partly due to the poor hygiene habits and lack of knowledge. "I think we've gotten an educational void," she said. "The education is not out there."
Parents at one Henry County middle school learned quickly that they needed to know more about the MRSA staph infection and how to prevent its spread.
On Oct. 23, school administrators at Austin Road Middle School in Stockbridge sent a letter home to parents informing them that three students at the school were being treated for positive CA-MRSA and that other students may have come in contact with the strain of staph infection.
"As a school, we have been proactive in our approach to cleaning by frequently disinfecting surfaces, such as desks and tables, doorknobs, and other objects. We also try to keep hand sanitizer and encourage hand washing," a portion of the letter read.
School officials confirmed four reports of MRSA within the Henry County School System so far this school year - three at Austin Road and one at Union Grove High School in McDonough. Parents at Union Grove also were notified of MRSA at their school.
According to Tony Pickett, the school system's Department of Student Services has been the point of contact for following up investigations on reported MRSA cases and whether the cases are linked. No links have been made in any of the cases.
In Clayton County, there have been no confirmed reports of MRSA this year, said Veronda Griffin, Clayton County Board of Health spokeswoman. Griffin says athletes are more prone to be exposed to MRSA.
In the event there is a case of MRSA reported in the Clayton County School System, she says the Board of Health would be involved in supervising Board of Education policy and health-safety protocols within the school system. "We'd try to make sure the schools have followed protocols that they have set for themselves," Griffin said.
Clayton County school officials must have a medical evaluation giving grounds for removing, or restricting students, and employees from school, according to Clayton County Schools spokesman Charles White. "The medical evaluation will be reviewed and acted upon as outlined in board policies," White said.
Board policy states that a student whose medical condition poses a substantial threat to the health or safety of the school community may be removed from school until the attendance of the student no longer poses the threat.
White added that all teachers, administrators, students, and other school system employees are educated and should follow routine procedures for cleanliness.
"It's not the schools necessarily, the problem is the individuals," said Michael Brown, infectious diseases physician at Southern Regional Hospital and Henry Medical Center.
MRSA is transmitted by skin contact and can be found in skin folds and in the nose. Those most at risk are athletes who may be exposed while playing sports or during workouts at the gym.
"It may not cause a problem as long as it is lying on the skin," Brown said. "But, when it gets beneath the skin, that can cause some problems.
"MRSA has been around for over 30 years, it used to normally be found in hospitals. But now it's primarily found within communities, and we have no explanation for that."
Practicing good hygiene, he adds, is the best remedy to ward off the spread of MRSA.