Tips for Parents
Managing MRSA: Helping Students Stay Healthy
Chances are that you've been hearing about recent MRSA, or "superbug," outbreaks, both on college campuses and within K-12 schools. MRSA — or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — is a staph bacteria that, in healthy people outside of hospital settings, typically shows up as skin infections, such as pimples and boils that can be treated with antibiotics. However, staph bacteria can also cause serious infections or pneumonia.
In a community setting, MRSA can spread through shared fitness equipment and other items/surfaces, certain contact sports or through direct skin-to-skin contact. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), other factors associated with the spread of MRSA infections include crowded living conditions and poor hygiene.
Students are being encouraged to do the following things to help prevent staph or MRSA skin infections:
- Keep hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and warm water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Shower with soap after playing sports, working out or using a public sauna, hot tub or pool.
- Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a dry bandage until healed.
- Avoid contact with other people's wounds or bandages.
- Avoid sharing personal items such as soap, towels, washcloths, clothing or razors.
- Put a barrier (cloth or towel) between skin and shared equipment (like exercise bikes, etc.).
- Wipe down the surface of equipment with a disinfectant before and after using it.
- Change sheets and towels regularly.
- Wash sheets, towels and clothes that may have come into contact with a wound. Use laundry detergent and water. And then dry clothes in a hot dryer to help kill the bacteria.
- Cover mouth or nose when coughing or sneezing, and wash hands right away.
- Clean bathrooms often.
- Wipe down public objects that others frequently touch like phones, doorknobs, desks, lightswitches, remotes, headsets, handsets, computer keyboards, toilets, sinks, tubs, counters and pagers with disinfectant wipes.
And, most importantly, if students suspect a MRSA infection, they should head to the health center immediately! There's no need for panic; they just need to act sensibly and get the professionals involved.
Sources: Medline Plus; "Living with MRSA" from the Washington State Department of Health, GroupHealth Cooperative and the Tacoma/Pierce County Health Department; The Centers for Disease Control
Typically, MRSA infections are skin infections that may appear as:
- sores that look and feel like spider bites
- boils, which are large, red, painful bumps under the skin
- cuts that are swollen, hot and filled with pus
- blisters filled with fluid
These skin infections commonly occur around cuts and abrasions, and on areas of the body covered by hair (e.g., back of neck, groin, buttock, armpit or beard area of men).
Other signs and symptoms of infection include:
- Boils, rashes or ingrown hairs — often occurring in the area of the armpits, groin, neck and/or buttocks where Staphylococcus bacteria colonize and thrive.
- Unexplained fever, muscular pain and/or fatigue, especially in the several months following a skin infection.
- Warmth around the infected area.
To clean frequently-touched surfaces and items, students can use:
- cleaners with the word "disinfectant" on them
- one tablespoon of bleach mixed into one quart of water (use new solution each time; bleach evaporates)
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