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Schools preparing MRSA information letter for parents

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Officials with Clayton County Public Schools are not waiting to see if the Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) form of bacteria is going to show up in their facilities.

While the bacteria has already affected at least two people in Clayton County, no cases have been reported in the school system.

At least four students in Henry County schools have been diagnosed with MRSA, though, and it has also affected students in other local school systems, including Atlanta Public Schools and the Cobb County School District.

As a result of media coverage of these MRSA cases, Clayton school officials are trying to be proactive in attempts to keep it out of their schools.

A letter discussing MRSA is expected to be sent to studetns' homes within the next few days, said Charles White, a spokesperson for the school system. The letter will include a "question and answer" section, and recommendations for preventing the spread of MRSA. The county's 59 schools will send out the letters on their own letterhead.

"We are approaching this [MRSA] with heightened caution, because it is contagious," White said. "We are approaching this as if the [bacteria] is already in the schools, so we'll be ready, if that scenario actually does happen."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created a special page on its web site to address MRSA in public schools. According to the CDC, there are five factors, called "The 5 C's," which can cause the transmission of MRSA, including crowding, contact, compromised skin, contaminated surfaces and a lack of cleanliness.

MRSA often appears as red, swollen boils, or pimples around cuts or areas of the body that are covered by hair. It is possible to treat MRSA by draining the boils, or pimples, and keeping the abrasions covered. The risk of contaminating a surface is reduced by keeping infections covered, according to the CDC.

White said there was some recent concern when a Clayton County student became ill, and administrators at the student's school thought it was a case of MRSA. Medical tests later showed the student didn't have the bacteria, though.

Clayton County has been preparing for a potential outbreak of MRSA since October 2006, when all of the school system's custodians went through training to learn about cleaning methods that can be used to prevent staph infections. The school system uses the disinfectant cleaner, Virex II, to fight the bacteria responsible for MRSA.

Virex II was used to clean Forest Park Middle School in March when a mysterious rash affected more than 100 students. White stressed that MRSA did not cause the rash at Forest Park Middle School, though.

He said the school system is making principals double-check their schools to make sure the facilities are clean at all times. Classrooms have to be sprayed with Virex II. Restrooms and locker rooms are cleaned with Virex II every day, and a fogger is also used in locker rooms at least once a week to kill any bacteria.

Tables in cafeterias are wiped down with ammonia-bleach water every day. Eating and cooking utensils are cleaned using both a detergent and a sanitizing chemical. Custodians, White said, also have to clean air conditioning vents, wall ledges, cabinet tops and chalk boards twice a month.

Students, faculty, administrators and staff members are being urged to wash their hands every time they use the restroom. Athletes are being told to not share towels in the locker rooms, since that action can help spread MRSA.

"We want to make sure we have the cleanest facilities," White said.