Local schools have taken preventative measures to guard against a deadly, drug-resistant strain of staph bacteria that has surfaced in several schools throughout Virginia and claimed the life of one student at Staunton River High School in Bedford County.
In reaction to the media accounts of the infections in Virginia, George Mason High School Athletic Trainer Vicki Galliher has been in contact with the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, as well as Fairfax County's Health Department to put in place measures to prevent a local outbreak of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known by the acronym MRSA. To that end, Mason High has released information on its website, accessible via www.fccps.org, on the dangers of of staph infections and suggestions on how to best combat their growth.
While Mason High School and several other local institutions have passed on information to their students, particularly athletes, about fighting the disease by maintaining proper hygiene, the schools have also begun efforts to clean their facilities. At George Mason, that process has entailed cleaning all sports equipment and athletic facilities with commercial disinfectant or a fresh solution of diluted bleach, according to Galliher.
“As long as our athletes are following proper hygienic measures and have any open wounds securely covered during competition, their risk for contracting staph or MRSA is minimized,” Galliher said.
Last week, two students at Rappahannock County High School, a school that regularly participates in athletic competitions against Mason High School, were diagnosed with MRSA. The two recent cases are the second and third MRSA cases reported by Rappahannock County this year.
Ashton Bonds, a 17-year-old student at Staunton River, died Monday, Oct. 15 after being diagnosed with MRSA.
Two years ago, George Mason High School was the site of a staph outbreak that involved 22 documented athlete cases, according to Galliher. In consultation with the Environmental Health Protection division of the Fairfax County Health Department, the school immediately closed its athletic and locker room facilities while a thorough disinfection took place.
Staph bacteria are usually found on the skin and inside the nasal cavity of most healthy people and can be spread by skin-to-skin contact or sharing an item an infected person, especially one with an open cut or sore. The bacteria is most dangerous in locker rooms and gymnasiums, where the conditions allow it to thrive and associated elements — sweat, skin exposure and potential abrasions on athletes' skin — permit easier transmission.
Infection can be prevented relatively easily in most cases by maintaining proper hygiene, such as frequent hand-washing, showering immediately after athletic competitions and wiping down communal exercise machines. Ordinary soap and water will remove any of the organisms that have colonized on the skin.
An infection may present itself in a variety of appearances, usually with discoloration around an open wound or puss-filled lesions that resemble a spider bite.
For more information on MRSA and a checklist for preventing infections, see the bulletin posted online at www.masonathletics.org.
• Alex Prewitt contributed to this report.