MRSA is not a new health threat. It has been around for many years, especially in health care settings. While MRSA is certainly worthy of our attention, a little education and planning can diminish its threat to your school or daycare ministry.
MRSA is a drug-resistant form of the staph bacterium, a germ that commonly lives on our skin. Staph rarely causes problems unless it enters the body through a cut or other wound. Even then, it often causes only minor skin infections in healthy people. Certain types of staph bacteria are now resistant to commonly prescribed antibiotics like oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin. This resistant form of the bacteria is known as Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, or MRSA.
Settings that are at greater risk for MRSA include schools, dormitories, and daycare centers. If your ministry is involved in any of the following, you need to be aware of what MRSA is, how to recognize its symptoms, and what to do if you encounter an outbreak:
MRSA is a skin infection. Symptoms usually appear as pustules or boils that are often red, swollen, painful, or have pus or other drainage. A MRSA wound can often be mistaken for a large pimple, spider bite or allergic reaction. Almost all MRSA infections can be treated with drainage of the wound and antibiotics. While more serious infections like pneumonia, bloodstream infections, or bone infections are very rare in healthy people, they can develop if symptoms are left untreated.
MRSA is usually transmitted by direct skin-to-skin contact or contact with shared items or surfaces that have come into contact with someone else’s infection (like towels, changing tables, weight benches, razors, etc.).
Like many infections and illnesses, the best tool to prevent MRSA is good hygiene. Schools, daycares and other settings should encourage hand washing with soap and water among employees and children. If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used.
In addition to practicing and encouraging good hygiene, skin abrasions and cuts should be covered at all times with a clean, dry bandage until completely healed. Students should avoid sharing personal items, such as towels or razors. Student athletes should put a towel or other type of barrier between their skin and shared equipment like weight-training benches. Students also should be directed to shower immediately after participating in sports activities.
School and daycare personnel should notify parents of students who have skin abrasions, especially if they are not getting better, are getting worse, or are accompanied by a fever. Parents should be advised to address any call for concern with a student’s healthcare provider.
In general, it is not necessary to close schools or daycares to disinfect them when MRSA infections occur. Cleaning and disinfection should be performed on surfaces that are likely to come in contact with uncovered or poorly covered infections. Detergent-based cleansers or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered disinfectants are effective at removing MRSA from the environment. A list of EPA-registered products that are effective against MRSA can be found here.
Unless directed by a physician, students with MRSA infections should not be excluded from attending school or coming to daycare. However, students with active infections should cover their wounds with clean, dry bandages and should be excluded from activities where skin-to-skin contact is likely to occur (i.e. sports, gym class) until their infections are healed.
Your ministry’s emergency management plan should consider a wide range of situations, including how to address an infectious disease outbreak. Key elements that are particularly important include:
This article was adapted from information about MRSA from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To learn more about MRSA in schools, see this resource.
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