Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 44
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
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“Superbug” Hits Princeton Schools

Linda Arntzenius

Three Princeton district school students are being treated for the antibiotic-resistant staph infection MRSA: two from Riverside School and one from Princeton High School.

Laboratory testing confirmed the district’s first cases of MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, the antiobiotic-resistant form of the more common staph infection.

“The cases are all in treatment and have been well handled by family and school,” said Superintendent of Schools Judith A. Wilson, who outlined the necessary steps for prevention at last week’s meeting of the Princeton Regional Schools Board of Education.

“There are three primary safeguards against the spread of this infection: washing hands, keeping cuts covered, and keeping surfaces clean,” said Ms. Wilson. “There will be lots of cleaning and much information for custodians but no special chemicals, as they are not necessary.”

Following a directive from the state Department of Education and using information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the Princeton and New Jersey departments of health, the district has disseminated information sheets and placed posters in bathrooms and locker rooms.

“PRS has blanketed the buildings, Web site [], and backpacks with information for students and parents,” said Ms. Wilson. “With great care we will limit exposure to MRSA.”

MRSA (pronounced MEER-suh) is a strain of staphylococcal or “staph” bacteria that does not respond to penicillin or related antibiotics, though it can be treated with other drugs.

The bacteria are normally found on the skin or in the nasal passages of 20 percent to 40 percent of healthy people and are usually not dangerous unless they enter into a person’s body through an open wound or by inhalation.

Antibiotic-resistant infections are becoming more common in the community.

The infection can be spread by sharing items, such as a towel or a piece of sports equipment that has been used by an infected person, or through skin-to-skin contact with an open wound.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), MRSA is most commonly associated with hospitals and healthcare facilities. Community-associated infections are becoming more common, however.

MRSA has been on the rise since first emerging in hospitals in the 1960s. Between 1974 and 2006, MRSA rose from 2 percent to 63 percent of all hospital-acquired staph infections. In August, Gov. Jon Corzine signed a law requiring all New Jersey hospitals to institute screening and isolation programs to fight the proliferation of the superbug.

A recent CDC report found that 19,000 people in the United States had died from MRSA infections in 2005. Eighty-five percent of those cases were reported in health care settings.

According to Eddy Bresnitz, deputy commissioner of New Jersey’s Department of Health and Senior Services, the agency has “received a few reports of sporadic or small outbreaks of community-associated MRSA infections in the last few years.”

While no school child has died from the infection in New Jersey, three MRSA-associated deaths have occurred in recent weeks in Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Virginia.

“MRSA in the community is typically a mild skin infection that rarely becomes life-threatening,” said CDC spokesperson Nicole Coffin.

Anyone exhibiting symptoms of a skin infection should contact their health care provider.

According to Princeton Health Officer David Henry, incidents must be reported to the state health department when two or more cases result from one facility.

Reducing the Risk

MRSA skin infections are generally minor, such as pimples, boils and other skin conditions. If you suspect a MRSA skin infection, you should seek medical attention. Take the following steps to prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant staph skin infections to others:

• Cover skin infections with clean bandages.

• Wash your hands with soap and water frequently. Soap does not need to be antibacterial.

• Do not share personal care items such as towels, razors or bar soap.

• Clean your bathroom and personal care items frequently.

• Wash towels, bedding and clothing in hot water and bleach. Dry these items in a hot air dryer to help kill the bacteria.

• Tell your healthcare providers if you have a history of MRSA skin infection.

For more information, call the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (609) 588-7500, or

“As adults and children who are in public settings from malls to restaurants to trains and schools, I expect that across all arenas of our lives we will be more conscious of washing hands frequently and will pay greater attention to covering cuts and sores,” said Ms. Wilson.

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