Student Well-Being

CDC Guides Schools on Staph Infections

By Christina A. Samuels — October 26, 2007 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided schools and parents with a concise summary of guidelines on how to prevent the spread of drug-resistant staph infections that have caused concern nationwide.

In the guidelines, federal health officials recommend frequent handwashing to prevent the spread of the bacterium called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. Students should not share personal items that come into contact with bare skin, such as towels or razors, and should disinfect open wounds immediately and cover them with clean, dry bandages, the Atlanta-based CDC recommends.

The guidelines, released Oct. 19, also say that schools need not be closed for disinfection because of a local MRSA case, as long as other recommended precautions are taken.

“In most cases, it is not necessary to close schools because of an MRSA infection in a student,” the guidelines say. “It is important to note that MRSA transmission can be prevented by simple measures such as hand hygiene and covering infections.”

See Also

A report from the CDC earlier this month, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, estimated that MRSA is linked to more U.S. deaths each year than the virus that causes AIDS. The news made headlines nationwide.

MRSA is primarily found in health-care settings, and children ages 5 to 17 have the lowest rate of infection. Many recent news stories, however, have focused on children who became sick who had not recently been hospitalized. Four deaths of minors—one each in Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, and Virginia—have been reported in October.

Infections have also been reported among students in Delaware, Maryland, Mississippi, and New Hampshire, and at a boarding school in Washington, D.C., which closed for a day. Many cases were reported among athletes, who tend to have more skin abrasions and may have frequent skin-to-skin contact through their sports.

States React

Most commonly, MRSA infections look like red, inflamed skin eruptions that can be treated with or without antibiotics, though the bacterium is resistant to the most common drugs. If the infection spreads to the bloodstream, however, it can be much harder to treat. About 25 percent to 30 percent of the U.S. population carries staph without becoming ill, according to health officials. About 1 percent carries the more dangerous MRSA strain. None of the strains causes infection until it enters the body through a break in the skin.

On Oct. 25, Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia moved to make MRSA an illness that must be reported to state health officials, after the death of a 17-year-old high school senior in southwestern Virginia who had been infected by the bacterium. In Connecticut, an MRSA telephone hotline got more than 240 inquiries on its first day of operation.

School districts have reported engaging in intensive cleaning in an effort to quell the spread of the bacterium. After the death Oct. 15 of Ashton Bonds, the Virginia teenager, his school and the 20 others in the 11,000-student Bedford County district closed for a daylong cleaning.

Ryan Edwards, the spokesman for the district, said the closings were mainly a way to ease worries and educate students and parents, not a matter of necessity from a health standpoint.

“If the general public in the U.S. had not been so ill-informed about this type of bacteria, we would not have closed our schools,” said Mr. Edwards, who believes that the community did not understand, at first, that the infection is generally spread by skin-to-skin contact. “We recognized a serious fear and a serious anxiety with our public, with our parents, and with our students.”

Focus on Hygiene

Though cleaning athletic equipment before and after use is helpful in stopping the spread of infection, experts note that teaching students the importance of personal cleanliness is just as important as cleaning a school locker room. Schools also need to stress the importance of handwashing and general cleanliness, and pay attention to small bumps and lesions on students’ skin that might have once been dismissed as pimples or insect bites.

“This is a cleanliness issue. It doesn’t matter if it’s bacterial, or fungal, or viral. Most of the time, [infections] can be drawn back to hygiene,” said James L. Thornton, the head athletic trainer and director of sports medicine at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, who is a member of the board of directors of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association in Dallas.

“We see kids that will practice or play a game, and following that practice or game, will not shower. Even though we keep hammering them,” Mr. Thornton said.

Tia Campbell, the school health specialist for the Virginia Department of Education, said: “What the epidemiologists are telling us is that our routine cleaning should be sufficient. Staph is on us and among us. You may do deep cleaning, but when you open the doors to the building the next morning, you’ve reintroduced staph again.”

Gerald N. Tirozzi, the executive director of the Reston, Va.-based National Association of Secondary School Principals, said that his organization plans to inform its members in its regular newsletter that MRSA is an important concern, especially among athletes.

“Our strong suggestion would be to err on the side of overreacting,” said Mr. Tirozzi, who said he battled a serious staph infection this year after back surgery. Doctors do not know whether he was infected with the drug-resistant strain, he said.

“I can fully understand how serious this can be,” Mr. Tirozzi said.


Budget & Finance Webinar Leverage New Funding Sources with Data-Informed Practices
Address the whole child using data-informed practices, gain valuable insights, and learn strategies that can benefit your district.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
ChatGPT & Education: 8 Ways AI Improves Student Outcomes
Revolutionize student success! Don't miss our expert-led webinar demonstrating practical ways AI tools will elevate learning experiences.
Content provided by Inzata
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Tech Is Everywhere. But Is It Making Schools Better?
Join us for a lively discussion about the ways that technology is being used to improve schools and how it is falling short.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being What a Superintendent Told U.S. Senators About Student Mental Health
The U.S. Senate HELP committee held a hearing on the youth mental health crisis.
6 min read
Tacoma Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Joshua Garcia testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on Why Are So Many American Youth in a Mental Health Crisis? Exploring Causes and Solutions, on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 8, 2023.
Joshua Garcia, the superintendent of the Tacoma district in Washington state, testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on June 8, 2023, about students' worsening mental health. Garcia highlighted the Tacoma Whole Child Initiative, through which schools shifted their focus from episodic responses in moments of crisis to a sustainable effort to support student well<ins data-user-label="Matt Stone" data-time="06/8/2023 3:23:55 PM" data-user-id="00000185-c5a3-d6ff-a38d-d7a32f6d0001" data-target-id="">-</ins>being.
Jose Luis Magana/AP
Student Well-Being Wildfire Haze and Poor Air Quality: Here's How Schools Are Responding
Children are particularly at risk from smoky skies, forcing school leaders to decide whether to cancel school or take less drastic measures.
4 min read
Students in a 10th grade English class at Pelham Memorial High School look outside the windows of their classroom on June 7, 2023, in Pelham, NY., as a yellow haze of smoke from wildfires in Canada blanket the area.
Students in a 10th grade English class at Pelham Memorial High School in Pelham, N.Y., look outside the windows of their classroom on June 7, 2023. Intense Canadian wildfires are blanketing the northeastern U.S. in a dystopian haze, forcing schools to decide whether to call off classes or take less drastic measures, like canceling outdoor activities.
Will Zammit-Miller via AP
Student Well-Being Addressing SEL Skepticism: Tips From Education Leaders for Getting Parents on Board
5 ideas for addressing confusion, disinformation, and questions.
6 min read
Image of dissatisfied, neutral, satisfied.
Student Well-Being Opinion Art Can Be Transformational, Even If You're Not 'Artistic'
Encouraging students to create art is important, even if it's in the form of humming or crafting mood boards.
Susan Magsamen
1 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.