Corporation taking steps to prevent staph strain from hitting schools

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Media outlets around the country have been reporting increases in the cases of a strain of staph infection; and officials with the Switzerland County School Corporation are taking proactive steps to prevent the disease – even before it is found here.

Jeanne Thurnall, director of health services for the school corporation, said that health officials are watching a strain called Methicillin-resistent Staphylococcus Aureus – or MRSA (“Mursa”) for short. Bacteria known as “staph” is found in nearly every place and on every person, but this strain has caused infection and sickness in people across the country, so everyone is being told to take preventative measures.

“There’s always a threat,” Jeanne Thurnall said. “We always have staph on our skin. It’s always around. MRSA has been around for years, and some people may have it and we may not know it.”

“It’s just a case where we want to have our staff adequately trained,” School Superintendent Tracy Caddell said. “We have been working cooperatively with the health department and putting protocols in place in the event we would have an outbreak. With the media attention that this has garnered, we thought that there might be some parents who were concerned, so we wanted to be proactive.”

Both Superintendent Caddell and Jeanne Thurnall stressed that there have been no known cases of MRSA in the Switzerland County School Corporation.

In an effort to bring key staff up to date on the disease, a meeting was held with cafeteria staffs, custodial staffs, administrators, and representatives of the Switzerland County Health Department in an effort to come up with a plan of attack should MRSA surface here, and a letter will be sent out to parents outlining measures.

One area that the school is focusing on is in the athletic department. Athletes have been known to share such things as shirts, towels, hair brushes, among other things, and Jeanne Thurnall says that it is important that athletes understand that they can’t share those types of items, because if fluid from an infected person is on those items, the bacteria is contagious and can be transmitted between people.

Other school areas are being alerted to general prevention that should go on all the time, such as washing hands and keeping wounds clean and covered.

Jeanne Thurnall said that the thing that parents and students need to watch for are open wounds and for rashes that won’t go away. Also at risk are abrasions and cuts to the skin that have fluids running out of them.

“The MRSA infection can have what looks like boils or pimples or blistered areas on the skin,” Jeanne Thurnall said. “The infected area is often warm, usually a bit painful, and there may be drainage.”

The bacteria can be spread between people by contact with those open wounds or with the fluids. Jeanne Thurnall said that it is important that anyone with an open wound keep it covered with a clean bandage, which cuts down on the threat of transmission to another person if the infected area is MRSA.

“What makes it a little tough to detect is that the person may have fever or chills, and with this virus thing that’s going around, people don’t know which is which,” Jeanne Thurnall said. “Health officials are talking about wounds that look like spider bites.”

Prevention is the best course of action in fighting off MRSA. As long as a student has the wound covered with a clean bandage, there is no risk for transmission – should the person have MRSA. There is no need to keep a student home from school if they have the wound covered.

“We’re taking care of it, and we should,” Jeanne Thurnall said. “We should be washing our hands. The things that we need to take care of are just good practices in general during flu season – for children and adults.”

Jeanne Thurnall said that staph bacteria have been in schools and all over other places for a long time, but recent outbreaks have been drawing national media attention.

As part of the preventative measures taken at the schools, Jeanne Thurnall said that all cleaning products that are used in all of the schools has been checked, and all of those products will kill the MRSA bacteria, and are EPA approved.

“There’s no reason to panic,” Jeanne Thurnall said. “But it is something that people need to be aware of. It can be serious, but as long as you take preventative and proactive measures, things should be all right.”

Anyone who thinks that they may have or have been in contact with a person who has MRSA should see their healthcare provider.