Official: ‘Super bug’ not new threat

By Sharna Johnson: Freedom New Mexico

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus areus, otherwise known as MRSA, is here. Actually, it’s been here for years, according to C. Mac Sewell, New Mexico state epidemiologist.

Increased public attention has schools and hospitals in Clovis and Portales getting out information on the bacteria.

Sewell said MRSA, one of several types of bacteria that can cause what is referred to as a “staph” infection, is increasing in commonality nationwide.

Though preventable early, advanced infections can cause death, he said.

Dubbed a “super bug,” reports of MRSA gained steam last week when a 17-year-old Virginia boy died Monday from infection complications.

In response, 21 schools in Virginia closed for cleaning after students pressured officials on sanitary conditions.

Sewell said school closures and cleanings were an overreaction, and it would have been more effective to send students home with a bar of soap and orders to shower.

“It’s kind of ridiculous. The fact is, staph is a skin bacteria,” Sewell said. “It can get onto surfaces but if you want to find it, I guarantee you the place to find it is on people’s skin and in their noses.”

Rhonda Sparks, health director for Clovis schools, said faculty and staff have been made aware of MRSA and have been encouraged to emphasize hand sanitation and proper wound care.

“We’re always looking at our sanitation protocol, because we always have sick kids at schools,” Sparks said. “What we are planning to do is (continue) already great protocol for cleaning our buildings and to make sure kids have good opportunities to do good soap and water defense.”

State officials know MRSA infections occur but have no numbers, Sewell said, since health providers aren’t required to track the infections.

Tersa Bonifant, an infection control officer for Roosevelt General Hospital, has tracked MRSA results. While she did not give exact numbers, Bonifant said there was an increase in the last five years.

Joy Stoddard, occupied health and infection control nurse at Plains Regional Medical Center, said PRMC has no tracking system for MRSA, but is planning one in coming months.

Patients treated for infections in the emergency room or urgent care clinic are screened for MRSA as standard procedure, Stoddard said.

While he doesn’t want to understate MRSA, Sewell said people need to put the matter into perspective.

“I think it’s not the time for everyone to panic, I think it’s time for awareness about staph infections,” he said. “We’ve got to keep all these health things in perspective. (MRSA) is an important issue but there are things we can do (to treat and prevent it).”

— The Associated Press contributed to this report

At a glance:

MRSA prevention:

• Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed.
• Avoid contact with other people’s wounds or bandages.
• Avoid sharing personal items such as towels or razors.

How to recognize MRSA:

Staph bacteria, including MRSA, can cause skin infections that may look like a pimple or boil and can be red, swollen, painful, or have pus or other drainage. More serious infections may cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections, or surgical wound infections.

Source: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dhqp/ar_mrsa_ca.html