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October 19, 2007

State public health director issues guidance to help limit and control MRSA outbreaks in schools
Cases reported in communities among healthy people

SPRINGFIELD – Dr. Damon T. Arnold, state public health director, will issue recommendations to limit transmission and control Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) outbreaks in Illinois schools.

Staphylococcus aureus is a bacterium that is commonly carried in the nose and on the skin of healthy people.  The bacterium is often referred to as "staph."  It is estimated that 30 percent of the population carries staph on the skin or in the nose. Staph is also one of the most common causes of skin infections in the United States. Methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA) is a type of staph that is resistant to some antibiotics, including the antibiiotic methicillin. 

Over the past 20 years, MRSA infections have occurred primarily among patients in hospitals or long-term care facilities. However, MRSA infections are becoming more common in the community among otherwise healthy persons, such as students, who have not had contact with health care personnel or patients. These infections are known as “community-associated MRSA” or CA-MRSA infections.

“We’re seeing MRSA infections among otherwise healthy people.  While we do not know the reason for this change, but want to make sure people know they can protect themselves.  To reduce the risk of MRSA infection, we must educate staff, students and parents about how it is spread and how to avoid transmission,” said Dr. Arnold.  “The Department has guidelines and will again provide these
recommendations so everyone will know basic tips to avoid transmitting this bacterium.”

Basic hygiene is the best protection against MRSA.  Thorough hand washing is a must, which includes washing hands before preparing or eating food; after touching any skin lesions or clothing contaminated by drainage from lesions; and after using the toilet or diapering a child.  Keep cuts and abrasions clean and covered with clean, dry bandages until healed.  Follow your health care provider’s
instructions on proper care of wounds and avoid contact with other people’s wounds or material contaminated by wounds.  There are also recommendations to avoid sharing towels and personal items, such as razors and deodorant. 

Most infections caused by staph are skin infections, such as pimples or boils.  Staph skin infections can be red, painful, swollen, or have pus or other drainage.  More serious staph infections can also cause pneumonia and infections of the blood and joints.

If multiple cases of Staphylococcus aureus infection are identified in a school, the school should provide students and their parents, faculty and staff information about what Staphylococcal aureus is, how it is spread, and how staph infections can be prevented.  The local health department may also implement more stringent requirements during an outbreak.

Realizing the need for more guidelines with regard to MRSA, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich recently signed legislation to help protect people against MRSA infection.  Healthcare facilities now have to perform
annual facility-wide infection control risk assessments; develop infection control policies; enforce hand hygiene and contact precaution requirements; and incorporate any updated prevention and control recommendations issued by the CDC.  In addition, hospitals are now required to screen all patients in intensive care units (ICUs) and other “at-risk patients” identified by the hospital for MRSA.

Additional recommendations are available for MRSA skin infections when multiple cases occur in a group or school setting.  For more information, contact your local public health department or the
Illinois Department of Public Health at 217-782-2016 or visit the website at idph.state.il.us.


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