Staph Infection Popping Up Across North Carolina
Posted October 19, 2007
Jackson, N.C. — It's a common bacteria found on millions of people, but a resistant form of staph infection called MRSA has been popping up across North Carolina.
It is blamed in the death of a Virginia teenager.
A handful of cases were confirmed in Buncombe, Mecklenburg, Forsyth, Guilford, Orange, Northampton, Cumberland, Robeson and Duplin counties. State health officials stressed that the cases do not constitute an outbreak, however.
The most recent MRSA case was detected in Northampton County at Willis Hare Elementary School in Pendleton. Officials declined to identify whether it was a student or a staff member who was infected.
The school district was following protocols established by the state Division of Public Health to contain the infection, officials said. Hand sanitizers were provided in classrooms, and an extra janitor was assigned to the school to provide additional cleaning in the cafeteria and other common areas.
Letters were sent to the parents of the students in the elementary school, and an automated telephone message was sent Thursday night to the parents and school staff. No schools were expected to close because of the infection, officials said.
Another case of MRSA was also confirmed in a student-athlete at Purnell Swett High School in Robeson County. School officials sent out a letter Friday to parents explaining the situation. They also cleaned the locker room and areas where students might have been exposed.
WRAL contacted school districts across the viewing area, and all were taking extra precautions to make sure campuses were clean. They've also informed students and staff about ways to protect themselves.
Cumberland County was handling five cases of MRSA. In the past three weeks, five inmates at the local jail were infected. Two remain at the facility, and three were transported to a hospital for treatment. The detention center was conducting a staph-infection-awareness class for all employees
Hospitals are also a common place for the MRSA bacteria. Studies show more than 126,000 hospitalized patients are infected each year. As of Friday, UNC Hospitals said 55 percent of its patients with skin infections had MRSA.
The germ has been called a Super Bug because of its resilience. Numbers on how widespread it is in North Carolina were hard to come by because doctors and hospitals do not have to report cases to the state.
Also, it can often be confused with other infections. One Orange County man quickly found out this was something different, however.
Monroe Thompson, an electrician in Hillsborough, was at work when he noticed the red, tender bump on his hand about five months ago.
“First, I thought it was a spider bite. That’s what all the people told me. ‘You got a spider bite. You got a spider bite,’” he said.
The bump looked like a large boil or pimple.
“And it kept getting worse and worse and worse, and that’s when I figure I better do something,” Thompson said.
He checked into an emergency room when he had a fever of 104, and he had to stay several days. Doctors found he had MRSA.
“I kind of felt like I was coming down with the flu when I had the fever,” he said.
Thompson was given antibiotics, which he said helped clear it up in a couple of weeks. He said his doctor suggested that he pour a bottle cap full of Chlorox in his bathwater to kill germs. Thompson, who still wears a scar on his hand, said he has no idea where he got it.
Hospitals are a common source, but it could be anywhere.
“It can occur among sports teams, close contact, school, military recruits – anywhere there are crowds and people have close contact,” said Dr. David Weber, a physician at UNC Hospitals.
Weber said most patients admitted for staph infections have what's known as community-associated MRSA. It's acquired by otherwise healthy people who are not infected at hospitals.
“This has dramatically increased over the last two or three years compared to five or 10 years ago,” Weber said.
Linda Shambley, also of Hillsborough, said she has had at least six staph infections since July and thinks she might have gotten them from a hospital stay. Her doctor told her it was not MRSA, but now she's taking extra precautions.
“Now I’m even scared to to go in the public bathroom,” Shambley said.
Around her home, she tries to keep everything as clean as possible.
“As soon as I come in, I go and wash my hands with anti-bacterial soap, because I don’t want to catch this stuff again.”