Rising Infections Suggest Need for Increased Awareness

STUDENT CENTERS AND HEALTH — In the past few weeks, students
across the nation have been exposed to virulent outbreaks of staph infection,
including a deadly strain of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus know
as MRSA. But it wasn’t until Oct. 16, when the death of a senior at Staunton River
High School in Moneta,
Va. prompted student protests, that the true
magnitude and dangers of staph infections in the United States were brought to the
public eye.

According to reports from doctors at the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, nearly 19,000 people in the United States died in 2005 from
MRSA infections — exceeding the number of deaths attributed to A.I.D.S.,
Parkinson’s disease, emphysema or homicide each year. New evidence from the
American Medical Association suggests that cases of the antibiotic-resistant
MRSA infections may be twice as prevalent as previously imagined.

In view of these recent reports, it’s disappointing that
local health and education officials weren’t the first to shed light on this
threat at Virginia high schools, but instead waited for student protestors to
be the proponents of disinfecting facilities and preventing the spread of this
potentially lethal strain of bacteria. In light of recent outbreaks, it is time
for officials in Virginia and throughout the country to treat this situation
with the caution and gravity it warrants.

The severity of these staph infections shouldn’t be taken
lightly — the current strain of MRSA circulating in schools across the nation
does not respond to penicillin and other related antibiotics. The infection can
be spread easily by skin-to-skin contact or through sharing hygiene items (such
as towels or razors) used by infected persons, especially those with open
wounds. Considering there were 11 other reported MRSA cases throughout southern
Virginia in the six months leading up to the most recent student death, it
comes as a great upset that schools did not make greater efforts to caution
students and prevent infections.

At Staunton River High
School, students took matters into their own hands by organizing a protest
overnight on Oct. 15 using text messages and social networking Web sites. They
brought the Bedford County School Superintendent on a tour of the school on
Oct. 16 to show him the filthy conditions of their facilities — especially the
locker rooms, a common area for student-athletes to contract staph infections.
The students’ efforts encouraged county officials to disinfect Staunton River
and 21 surrounding high schools in an effort to prevent further outbreaks.

It is discouraging that health and education officials
failed to initially take greater
preventative measures. Fortunately, the staph infection cases in Virginia were
promptly addressed after they were discovered, but had people been more
informed, it may have been possible to prevent the Richmond student’s death.

According to reports, the student’s mother said that her son
was originally sent home from the hospital after doctors ruled out appendicitis
as the cause for his severe stomach pains.

He was readmitted after a few days, but wasn’t diagnosed
with MRSA until the staph infection had spread to his kidneys, heart and lungs.
By then, it was already too late.

If schools and medical facilities throughout the area are
made more aware of recent bacterial outbreaks, it may be possible to discover
MRSA infection sooner so that future patients can receive the proper drug
treatments quickly.

Considering that student MRSA infection have already been a
problem in Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, Florida and Illinois, it is not
unreasonable for schools in other states to inform their students about the
dangers of staph infections.

In order to ensure infections won’t continue to spread
throughout the nation, student health centers should provide more information
to educate students about the severity of these bacterial strains and what can
be done to detect and prevent future infections. Additionally, schools should
take their own measures to promote clean environments instead of hot-spot
bacteria-infested areas such as locker rooms, where infections are most often
contracted.

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