Staph cases rise as media focus attention

Steven Bushong

The unbecoming staph infection, which often looks like a pimple oozing yellow pus, has become a popular topic in the media.

On radio, television and in print, coverage of the superbug is extensive and at times ominous. Despite this, Mary Reeves, director of University Health Services, said there is no need for alarm. She said people need to balance awareness with being overly anxious about the virus.

In Kentucky, an entire school district was shut down for a single case of staph, also called MRSA. The district’s superintendent made the decision to close and disinfect its buildings as a precautionary measure.

“There’s a reason to close down a school,” Reeves said. “If you have one case, and it’s been isolated and it’s been identified and it’s been treated, then closing down a school could be an overreaction.”

A person contracts a staph infection through human-to-human contact, but specific conditions are required for the infection to be transmitted, Reeves said.

The bacteria must be present, usually on someone’s hands but sometimes on sports equipment, towels or hygiene products. Then, the to-be-affected person must have a cut, scrape or open wound.

Staph Infections:

• About 30 percent of the population has staph bacteria in their nose, but carriers often remain healthy.

• Most staph infections are treatable with antibiotics or by draining skin boils or abscesses.

• Prevent infection by washing your hands often and keeping cuts and scrapes bandaged until healed.

• Staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infection in the United States.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov

Bacteria and skin abrasion meet, and the infection begins. Reeves said the infection can become serious if left untreated – to a level that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said threatened the lives of 94,000 Americans in 2005.

The best protection against staph is good hygiene practices.

Reeves said it’s normal for a few staph cases to be reported at Kent State each year. And, because of the nature of sports, athletes have a higher infection rate than others.

In Portage County, reported staph infections have been on the rise in recent years. Five years ago, 100 cases of staph were reported to the Portage County Health Department. In 2005, that number had risen to 350.

In the last nine days, 18 cases have been reported to the health department, nursing director Kelly Engelhart said. The numbers seem to indicate a drastic rise in transmission of the virus, but the picture they paint might not be completely accurate.

Because the media has its spotlight on staph, there is greater physician and public awareness of the virus, Engelhart said. In addition, the virus’ progression from a bug confined to hospitals to one also found in locker rooms, schools and other community areas has increased reported cases.

Angela DeJulius, Portage County Health Department medical director, said individuals at greatest risk for staph infections are those in the same household as someone already infected.

That finding comes from a task force investigation of 80 recent staph infections. The investigation’s conclusion will lead to the health department’s refocusing of public awareness efforts to households from the traditional hospital, DeJulius said.

Kent State is also increasing its efforts to make students aware of staph since it became popularized by the media. Health Services added an informational page to its Web site, and Residence Services has been circulating information.

Reeves encourages people to come to the DeWeese Health Center or visit a doctor if they notice any abnormal skin lesions, as staph becomes more severe as time passes. She also suggests once given the antibiotics to treat staph, patients take the full prescription.

Contact assistant news editor Steven Bushong at [email protected]