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Health officials urge caution

By Staff
Drug-resistant bacteria hasbeen around for years
By CLAUD HODGES
Senior Reporter
Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA, has been around for years, however, it has raised awareness lately since it has entered the schools, officials say.
MRSA is a common bacteria – so common that 25 to 30 percent of the population has it living on their skin at any one time, said Dr. Jeff Engel in a telephone interview Friday afternoon. Engel is state epidemiologist for the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health.
In the late 1960s, Engel said MRSA was in the hospitals at the rate of approximately 60 percent. At that time, he said antibiotics were being used to treat many, many illnesses when many of the antibiotics were not needed.
So, he said, in effect, MRSA “evolved” into a less common variety of staph that is not affected by common antibiotics, such as penicillin.
At the Oct. 22 meeting of the Beaufort County Board of Education, Donna Woolard, a grandparent of a Northside High School student, blasted the board and the Northside High School administration for insinuating that MRSA was a “rumor” because she said her grandson was a victim of MRSA.
Woolard said there was “a complete and arrogant dismissal” of peoples’ concerns about MRSA by the school board and the Northside High School administration.
Actually, this strain of MRSA in the news now has been around “for 10 years now,” Engel said.
Engel was in Beaufort County two weeks ago to discuss MRSA with public health and school officials.
The basic message about MRSA is to avoid it, he said, and we wanted to encourage to schools to educate the parents and students about how MRSA is passed around and how to get out of its way.
In Virginia on Wednesday, Gov. Timothy Kaine ordered medical laboratories across that state to report all cases of drug-resistant infections to the state’s health department, effective immediately. The emergency act followed the death of a Virginia teen last week of MRSA.
Taking all of those lab reports in Virginia is going to cause a tremendous amount of work that does not have to be done, he said.
All of this will just cause a bottleneck of cases and take away the significance of other work that must be done, he said.
The chances for infection are higher when there is skin-to-skin contact, Engel said. Invariably, that skin-to-skin contact comes in athletics.
By washing hands, everyone in the medical world knows that it will decrease the incidence of MRSA.
What appear to be pimples, bug bites, sores or boils, or anything of the sort, can be signs of MRSA involved, said Roxanne Holloman, Beaufort County health director.
It all goes back to personal hygiene, Holloman said.
And, like Engel said, Holloman stressed to “Wash your hands. Wash your hands.”
Athletes should be very careful around locker rooms, weight rooms and any other enclosed area that is susceptible to moisture and warmth. They should avoid using the same towels, interchanging clothing, using the same razors, and any other activity that would bring their body’s fluids into contact with others’, Holloman said.
Dr. Charles Boyette, vice-chief of staff at Pungo District Hospital, said in a telephone interview on Friday evening, “We’re not having a serious problem with this in Belhaven.
It is with the population right now, Boyette said, but is not rampant and medical intervention will rid the population of MRSA.
The Beaufort County Hospital in Washington began following MRSA incidences about four years ago, despite the N.C. Health Department not requiring it to do so.
She said the hospital “is probably seeing an increase” in MRSA cases and is definitely seeing an increase “at a steady pace” in school aged children.
With the public becoming aware of MRSA, she said the public is probably thinking about how it can be “very, very dangerous.”
And, like Engel, Holloman and Boyette, she stressed, “Wash your hands.”
Without the figures at her grasp, she could say only that Washington County Hospital’s MRSA rate is “trending consistently.”
No one was available Friday afternoon at Martin General Hospital in Williamston to speak on the MRSA issue.