Weekly Checkup: MRSA

A deadly strain of staph bacteria is making its way throughout the Virginia and D.C. area and so far, there have been a few cases of fatal infections in Virginia schools. While these bacteria infections are a serious problem, don’t worry: There are simple, common sense steps you can take to protect yourself.

This staph bacteria is called MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). Staph is a skin infection that can be contracted through open cuts. They are quite common and can usually be treated through an antibiotic. What makes MRSA so dangerous is that it has become resistant to antibiotics. If it infects one’s skin, there is no way to halt the infection, and it can go on to make the rest of the body toxic.

There is an amount of risk for a MRSA outbreak at GW, said Susan Haney, Student Health Service outreach coordinator, because of the close living spaces between students. It is a skin infection, so physical contact can spread the bacteria easily. Students also tend to be more at risk because of sports and other high-energy activities in which the skin is more likely to be injured

Usually, the beginning sign is a pimple or boil on the skin’s surface. It will become red and swollen and may have some discharge. If you suspect that a sore on your skin is a staph infection, you should have it checked out by Student Health Service or a doctor. There are ways of treating it, even if it is as serious as MRSA.

A few students at certain Virginia schools, such as Staunton High School, were not able to fight off the bacteria infection. While the average number of staph infections actually stayed the same compared to other years, the bacteria’s new resistance to being treated caused it to become deadly.

Michael Kelley, principal of Staunton High, said the school had to be shut down briefly in order to disinfect and to calm down the students. Many students, he said, as well as the rest of the community, were frightened after their classmate passed away because they did not know much about the MRSA virus and how to deal with it. The school decided to teach students about good hygiene and how to protect against bacteria. The school has even put hand sanitizer dispensers in the cafeteria and in the classrooms.

“What we’ve learned is that these staph bacteria are carried by everyone, so everyone needs to take proper precaution and stay clean,” Kelley said.

Researchers are searching for other antibiotics that may overcome the MRSA strain. In the meantime, students need to use common sense and be hygienic. It is important to clean and disinfect cuts and sores, keep clean band-aids on those cuts, and be careful not to come in contact with others’ band-aids or cuts.

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