Superbug’ touches down at Williston school

A student was sent home from a Williston school last week because she was infected with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA). MRSA is a type of bacteria that is not treatable with most antibiotics, according to a letter the school nurse Kathy Shea sent to parents on Monday. The student was allowed back in school last week after both the Allen Brook School and the Williston Central School were cleaned with disinfectant, the district principal Walter Nardelli said. “We’re making sure everyone’s cleaning what’s called ‘hard surfaces’ that are used in common,” Nardelli said. The school took a systematic approach to insure that all surfaces were cleaned that needed to be, and teachers disinfected their classrooms, desks, door handles and keyboards while the janitors sanitized the bathrooms and other common areas, Nardelli said. The bacteria has been proven deadly if left untreated, so Shea sent the infected student with her parents to see a doctor, Nardelli said. “We already knew this was out there and we had already put out some information before this ever happened … when the student came to the nurse with a cut she recognized right off what the symptoms were. “I think what you’re finding in the news when the results are more serious is that people have ignored the symptoms” Nardelli said. The antibiotic Vancomycin has been used to treat MRSA, Shea’s letter said, but it is immune to other antibiotics. For this reason, an effort to treat it like other staph infections with penicillin has led some to label this bacteria a “superbug.” “Some people can carry MRSA for days to many months, even after their infection has been treated,” Shea’s letter said. In spite of this, Nardelli maintains that there is little chance of her infecting other students. “The doctor has ruled that there is no risk. The cut is healing and once it’s closed the likelihood of anything happening is almost zero,” Nardelli said. In fact, to keep this student from interacting with others in the Williston school would not make sense because 30 percent of people carry staph bacteria, and one percent of people carry the MRSA bacteria state epidemiologist Cort Lohff said. “People can carry the bacteria in the nose or on the skin without having any illness” Shea’s letter points out. Because of this, some people can pass the bacteria on to other people without having the illness themselves, Lohff said. “Having said that, the risk of transmitting the organism is extremely low,” Lohff said. Still the school district is taking every precaution to see that the bacteria does not spread. “Handwash, handwash, handwash,” Shea’s letter instructs, she also advises against sharing personal items as the bacteria lives in the nose and skin. “Don’t share towels, razors, deodorant or other personal items that come in contact with people’s skin,” Lohff said. Most cases of MRSA infection occur in hospitals and nursing homes Nardelli said But Shea’s letter also warns that outside of these settings, participating in contact sports, sharing personal items, injecting drugs and living in crowded settings can increase the risk of infection. Close settings like dorm rooms should not present too great a risk, however, if the proper precautions are taken, Lohff said. “The preventative methods that we’re trying to get out to the general public are equally valid for people that live in dormitories,” he said. In addition to maintaining good hygiene, Lohff says that cleaning and disinfecting desks, computers, bathrooms and showers can significantly decrease the risk of spreading MRSA. Lohff also said that the fact that there was an infection in Williston should not alarm the surrounding communities, as a full one percent of people are carriers of the bacteria anyway. “My message to the public is one of reassurance,” he said.