School officials in California are joining others in the country getting the word out about antibiotic-resistant staph infections, although they don't want students and parents to panic.
State schools chief Jack O'Connell said Friday he wasn't overly concerned about the infections that have occurred at California schools this year, but felt he ought to hold a press conference in the Bay Area.
"We feel it is important to provide information, dispel fears, answer questions, and most importantly, let students, parents, and school personnel know that there are simple precautions they can take to prevent incidents of MRSA," O'Connell said.
Bacteria called methicillin-resistant staph aureus, or MRSA, was suspected in skin infections on six Hughson High School students last month. The bacteria is resistant to methicillin, an antibiotic related to penicillin. It usually can be treated with other antibiotics, although there's concern the bacteria will become immune to those medications, too.
Hughson High officials said Friday that the students responded to treatment from their doctors, and they were not aware of any new cases.
The state has been sending schools information on taking precautions, responding to cases of infection and giving information to parents.
Another push for education has come from the forensics biotech students at Enochs High School in Modesto who have been looking at pictures of extreme staph infections and discussing the so-called "superbugs" in their classes.
"I was a little bit shocked," said Sarah Ybarra, a junior in the biotech program. "I thought, I need to be careful about sharing things with my fellow students."
The students reacted like many others who first learn about MRSA. They washed their desktops with bleach, sterilized their goggles under ultraviolet light and began using hand sanitizers.
They also suggested to instructor Dave Menshew that they educate other students on campus. That idea evolved into a community meeting set for 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Enochs High School Eagle's Nest cafeteria.
Microbiologists from the clinical laboratory at Memorial Medical Center will provide information. Students, school personnel, parents and other members of the public are invited.
Menshew said Friday he is getting reports from other teachers that their students are getting more compulsive about hand-washing as well.
"With an issue like this, there can be a certain amount of hype," Menshew said. "We want to get past that and educate. We need to take a sensible approach to this."
What it is, what it can do
Staph is a common bacteria living on the skin and in noses of about 30 percent of the population. The bacteria can cause an infection when it gets into a wound or compromised skin.
Different strains have become resistant to pencillinlike antibiotics. One type of MRSA is common in hospitals and another form has spread in the community.
MRSA skin infections may include boils, abscesses, cellulitis or wound infections. If left untreated, the infection can get into the bloodstream, causing serious illness or, in some cases, death.
Patti Cassinerio, health serv-ices director for the Stanislaus County Office of Education, said she has heard of "a limited number of cases" of MRSA infections at schools in the county. There is no data on staph infections because it's not an illness reported to health agencies.
She said general information from the state Department of Public Health recently was distributed to schools. It included advice on responding to an outbreak and disinfecting classrooms and sports equipment.
"What I am hearing back is that the schools are taking it seriously," Cassinerio said.
Cover wounds, and disinfect
According to the state guidelines, a student with a draining infection should have a bandage over the wound to prevent other students from coming into contact with the fluid. There is no reason to require a student with a skin infection to stay home from school, unless the drainage is so heavy it can't be covered.
Trudi Prevette, a communicable disease nurse for the county, said the Health Services Agency has been giving guidance about MRSA to schools and day cares for about two years.
She said day cares should have a policy regarding children with skin infections. The state recommendation calls for covering infections, and excluding children only if the drainage from a wound is heavy and children are likely to come in contact with it.
Some of the guidance pertains to school athletic programs, as gymnasiums and locker rooms are places where the bacteria can spread by skin-to-skin contact, sharing towels or lying in sweat left on a weight-lifting bench.
Hughson High Principal Debra Davis said that when the outbreak was discovered, the school disinfected weight-lifting equipment and other areas used by football players who had infections.
"We don't do the cleaning every day, but we mop the wrestling mats every day," Davis said Thursday. "Wrestling mats are notorious for impetigo (a type of staph infection.)"
The informational meeting on MRSA infections is at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Enochs High School multipurpose room, 3201 Sylvan Ave., Modesto.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlsonmodbee.com or 578-2321.