Health Team

State Health Director: MRSA Very Common Like Cold, Flu

Posted October 24, 2007 12:27 p.m. EDT
Updated October 24, 2007 3:27 p.m. EDT

 Ashley Bowman, a Forsyth county resident is looking for a new kidney after numerous life setbacks. Bowman is on the transplant list and in full-time dialysis. Despite what she's facing, she was determined to fulfill her dream.

— The state health director is urging residents not to overreact when it comes to MRSA, a staph infection that has many people on edge.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) is a severe skin infection caused by bacteria resistant to common antibiotics.

The infected area starts as a bump that looks like a pimple or insect bite. The bump later turns red, starts to swell and fills with pus. If left untreated, the lesion can become hard and painful. MRSA can lead to an infection of the bloodstreem or joints, pneumonia or other severe infections.

Officials said the infection contributed to the death of a Virginia teen and also prompted 21 schools to close for disinfecting. Earlier in October, six East Forsyth High School football players were diagnosed with it.

Still, State Health Director Dr. Leah Devlin said staph infections, including the MRSA kind, are so common doctors aren't even required to report them to the state.

"MRSA is very common like the common cold and like influenza, so common we can't require all this to be reported," she said.

Devlin said staph is so common that 25 percent to 30 percent of people have it on their skin at any given time, and most people will never get sick from it.

Two Wake County schools notified parents this week that a student at each site had been diagnosed with MRSA infections. Devlin said health leaders are working with schools to make sure they understand what works and what doesn't when it comes to dealing with the infection.

"Kids can go to school if they have an infection on their skin, even if it is MRSA. They just need to keep the wound completely covered. That's what is most important," Devlin said.

Devlin said it is not necessary to shut down a school when a student has MRSA. Rather, everyone should just practice good hygiene.

"Washing hands, covering wounds are really the important strategies to use to prevent transmission," she said.

Officials said numbers on MRSA cases are hard to come by since no one is required to report them to the state health department.

MRSA infections were once seen almost exclusively in hospitals, nursing homes and other health care settings. Devlin said about 85 percent of infections still happen in those settings.