HUGHSON -- Hughson High School has disinfected its locker rooms, bathrooms and sports equipment and was planning more cleaning Tuesday night after six students came down with suspected staph infections, district officials said.
Principal Debra Davis said at least five of the six students had returned to school by Tuesday afternoon. She said she was not sure about the sixth, who sought treatment Tuesday, but said the student was expected back today.
"The students who have had staph infections here have gone to their own doctors and healed up very quickly," Davis said.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, has been popping up in community settings such as schools for the past few years. A 17-year-old student in Virginia died of the infection Oct. 15. Students and staff at a middle school and high school in the Sacramento area returned to freshly scoured and disinfected campuses Tuesday after cases of staph infection were reported at each school.
Stanislaus County's public health agency takes the position of presuming that cases such as those in Hughson are probably MRSA. The infection is prevalent and isn't required to be reported, so public health agencies can't easily track it.
Unlike the more deadly and difficult to treat form of MRSA found in hospitals, the commu-nity form found at schools responds well to treatment and is rarely fatal but is more contagious, said Dr. John Walker, Stanislaus County public health officer.
"It is resistant to a specific drug called methicillin, which is what we normally prescribe, but it is not an organism that is resistant to all antibiotics," Walker said. "It is very, very important to note that this is treatable, and it is rarely fatal."
Although the exceptions aren't fully understood, he said, people with immune deficiencies and diabetes are at higher risk for developing a fatal case.
The infection resembles a spider bite and often is mistaken for one. If untreated, it can lead to complications.
Public health officials have launched information campaigns during the past two years targeting highest-risk groups, including sports teams apt to be in environments with skin-to-skin contact where the infection is transmitted. They urge disinfection of locker rooms and hand washing or using antibacterial alcohol cleansers.
Davis said the six Hughson High School cases include some students on the football team and some who were not involved in sports. Specifics on the students were not available Tuesday.
"We disinfected the girls' and boys' locker rooms, restrooms, shower rooms, weight room and our wrestling room -- the typical places where PE classes might go or the sports teams might go and where there might be skin-to-skin contact," she said. "We just need to keep up our cleaning procedures and make sure students report to us and keep up on hand washing and limit skin-to-skin contact, especially where they have open wounds, and if we do these things, things should work out fine."
Davis said she became aware of the infections Oct. 22 when she was taken to see two students in the office who had what she described as a wounded or injured area.
She said she told the students to show their injuries to their parents to decide whether to seek further medical attention. School staff then reached out to the rest of the student body and found three students who said they were treated for staph infections several weeks ago. The sixth case emerged Tuesday, Davis said.
But the school didn't send notes home to parents. The lack of information worried Stacey Kirkwood, whose son is a junior. She said the school is usually good about keeping parents in the loop.
"I called, and they gave me all the information I needed, but I think it should be knowledge all of the parents have," Kirkwood said. "If a child falls off of the monkey bars and has a goose egg on his head, the school would call and say the child looks OK but you might want to watch to make sure he's OK later. It's just communication. If this is something that is contagious, I feel everybody should know about this."
She found out from her son. And by Tuesday, the student rumor mill had put the number of infections at 10.
Davis said the school didn't want to worry people needlessly by sending home notes.
"We are very concerned about people panicking and thinking these are MRSA cases when we have no indication they are," Davis said. "We didn't want to tell parents it's that when we didn't know what we have."
She said the district nurse, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Stanislaus County Public Health advised the high school against sending notes home.
Walker said the recommendation didn't come from the county. His office has been distributing brochures about MRSA for two years, particularly among high school athletes.
Hughson High's monthly newsletter goes home to parents today, and Davis said it will include information received from the public health agency.