MRSA found at Clarion U., also diagnosed at Pitt

By ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON

Sometimes the littlest things make the biggest difference – like taking 20 or 30 seconds to… Sometimes the littlest things make the biggest difference – like taking 20 or 30 seconds to wash your hands, thereby preventing the spread of a potentially lethal staph infection.

After the staph bacteria known as MRSA infected one football player at Clarion University of Pennsylvania last week, the university screened some 400 student-athletes. The screening revealed that a second member of the football team had become infected.

Clarion University was then quick to extensively clean all athletic facilities and equipment and to notify students of special weekend hours for screening.

The heightened alarm comes in response to a federal report stating that the bacteria, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, causes more deaths in the United States each year than AIDS.

MRSA infections may start with a cut and can be spread by sharing items, such as a towel or a piece of sports equipment that has been used by an infected person, or through skin-to-skin contact with an open wound. Though MRSA does not respond to penicillin and related antibiotics, it can be treated with other drugs.

Dr. Elizabeth Wettick of Student Health Services at Pitt diagnoses about two students every week with MRSA. She usually prescribes infected students an antibiotic and tells them to be cautious in covering open cuts and practicing cleanliness.

“When I tell some patients that I think they are infected, they look at me like they have just been given a death sentence,” she said. “But it’s really not a huge deal.”

People normally carry the bacteria on the skin and in the nose. Problems arise when the bacteria finds its way into an open wound.

“There is a key distinction between MRSA acquired in the hospital versus acquired in the community,” Wettick said.

The federal report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that in 2005 nearly 19,000 people died in the United States from a MRSA infection. Eighty-five percent of the infections occurred in health care settings, such as nursing homes and hospitals.

The remaining 15 percent of MRSA cases occurring in the community are rarely life threatening, according to a spokesperson at the CDC.

MRSA skin infections can occur anywhere.

It is more likely that they occur in places that are crowded and contaminated, such as schools, dormitories, households and locker rooms.

“If people cover open wounds and practice good hygiene, a MRSA outbreak is not likely,” Dr. Wettick said.

Prevention is as simple as keeping hands clean by washing with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and covering cuts with a clean, dry bandage until healed.

During exercise, a barrier, such as a towel or clothing, should be used between skin and shared exercise equipment. Immediately after using shared exercise equipment showering is important.

Recreational facilities at Pitt are regularly cleaned with Simple Green, according to the director of intramurals and recreation at Pitt, Gabriel Lambright. Students are also asked to go over exercise equipment with wipes provided by the University after use.

Another tip is to avoid sharing personal items that come into contact with bare skin, such as towels and razors.

Overall, the CDC urges people to simply maintain clean environments.

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