A campus-wide health alert confirming three cases of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus among residential students sent Tuesday urged the campus community not to panic—school officials say good hygiene and hand-washing should be enough to keep students safe.
MRSA, (pronounced MEER-suh), a strain of staph infections resistant to penicillin and related antibiotics, can be spread by skin-to-skin contact with an infected person’s open wound, or through sharing items like towels or sports equipment, according to Health Center Director Thomas Riley.
“Staph is a very common infection. It’s on everyone’s skin at any time—it’s everywhere”, Riley said. “It’s really more of a hygiene issue than anything else.”
Student Affairs Vice President Bernard Chirico decided to issue the alert after fielding
dozens of phone calls from anxious parents in the wake of three staph-related student deaths this month, according to Riley.
Riley, who routinely treated patients with the all-too-common infection in private practice, said that he was taken aback by the volume of phone calls he received following the media coverage of the student deaths.
“My jaw dropped when I heard them on the other line,” he said. “I mean, what am I supposed to do here—line up all the students on campus and make them wash their hands?”
The three MRSA cases that Riley has treated so far have all responded to antibiotics.
“The last patient I saw came in on Thursday, and she was better by her follow-up appointment on Monday”, Riley said.
Riley said that the woman originally thought she was suffering from a spider bite, which is a common self-diagnosis among infected patients. The sore, which usually looks like a pimple or a boil, will be red, swollen and filled with puss, according to the Centers for Disease Control Web Site.
“Opening up the sore and getting that puss out is the number one treatment. The antibiotic is secondary”, Riley said.
Although Riley encourages students to be cautious and seek immediate treatment for suspicious sores, he said that the school as a whole had no reason to panic—that’s what he told 30 administrative officials representing departments ranging from residence life to athletics discussed the recent infections at a weekly meeting Tuesday morning.
“Most people were feeling that it was not as big of a deal as the newspapers have made it out to be”, Riley said.