TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

November 1, 2007

Laurel County on lookout for staph


By Samantha Swindler / Managing Editor

With several unconfirmed community-acquired MRSA cases in Laurel County schools, the district – like others in the Tri-County – is stepping up its cleaning regiment and warning students and teachers about the importance of good hygiene.

Duff Holcomb, school nurse and health coordinator for Laurel County schools, said she wasn’t keeping track of reported cases, but there had been “two or three” MRSA cases at the county’s two high schools, in addition to reports at other schools.

Rinda Vanderhoof, nursing administrator for the Laurel County Health Department, said she had only one culture-confirmed case of CA-MRSA in Laurel County, and it did not involve a school. She said she did not keep records of cases reported by phone – only those confirmed by lab results.

“I’ve had calls about children that have had it, but I haven’t had any physicians that have reported it to our department,” she said.

MRSA — or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — is the type of staph infection that killed a 17-year-old Virginia student earlier this year.

There are two strains of MRSA. Healthcare-associated MRSA has been documented since the 1980s and is usually contracted in a healthcare facility. But, cases of community-acquired MRSA are a more recent phenomena, cropping up over the last few years in schools, jails and other public places.

“We used to just see it in the hospitals,” Holcomb said.

For the past few years, schools have been stepping up cleaning regiments and training teachers and staff to look for signs of MRSA. The wound where the infection begins often resembles a brown recluse spider – it is red, swollen and painful to the touch.

“If we have a student that has anything suspicious looking, we’re just going ahead and sending them back to their doctor,”’ Holcomb said. “If they have any sores, it has to be covered for them to be in school.”

Although MRSA is resistant to drugs commonly used to treat staph, it’s not unstoppable. The danger comes when it is not detected early – if MRSA goes untreated, it can get into the bloodstream and become deadly, in some cases, within two weeks of getting the infection.

“We’ve been very fortunate and blessed because we haven’t had that yet,” Holcomb said.

Temperature, humidity and close proximity to others make locker rooms and gyms prime places to catch CA-MRSA. Those areas are being cleaned daily at Laurel County schools, Holcomb said.

“We did a big training for our principals in August 2006 because we started to see that it was community- acquired (MRSA,)” Holcomb said. “This year, at the first month of school, we went to all the individual schools and met with faculty and staff. What we’re telling our folks is that hand washing is the best thing you can do.”

Hand washing is the most important way to prevent the spread of MRSA, but Holcomb said many people don’t take the proper amount of time to wash their hands. It takes a good 20-30 seconds with soap and water to be safe. She tells elementary students to sing “Happy Birthday” twice or sing the ABCs as they wash their hands to spend the proper time under the faucet.

“We don’t need to get all excited about it (MRSA), we just need to be very proactive,” Holcomb said.

She invited parents with children in the Laurel County School District to call her with any questions at 606-862-4608.

“We just want people to realize it is not new disease, it has been out there,” Vanderhoof added.

She also asked parents “to stress to their children to alert them when they have any areas that look like a bug bite. The biggest thing that we would stress is proper hand washing and hygiene.”