Incidents of the “super bug” MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant staph infection, have been reported in schools throughout the U.S., with approximately eight to 10 incidents in New Jersey schools.
The infection has primarily struck in hospitals and nursing homes, where patients have reduced immunity to infection. Nonetheless, with 1.4 million students and more than 200,000 staff members in New Jersey, more public schools are likely to report instances of the infection.
MRSA stands for “methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus,” which is a bacterium resistant to the group of antibiotics commonly used to treat infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 25 to 30 percent of the U.S. population carries staph without the bacteria making them ill; about 1 percent of the population carries the more dangerous MRSA.
Among school districts reporting MRSA infections, there is no fixed pattern as to the age or grade level. A number of cases, however, involve student athletes, which reflects the CDC’s statement that infection can spread through the sharing of personal items, such as towels.
What should school boards do if a case or several cases of MRSA are reported in the district?
- Start by sending a caring, reassuring letter to parents describing the actions the district has and will take. Having each principal sign letters directed to the parents of children in his or her school would make it clear that a highly visible, recognizable administrator is attentive to the situation. The information cited in this article and sidebar could be incorporated into such a letter.
- Some school districts might also conduct district-wide or school-based meetings to discuss the matter with parents.
- The board may also appoint a special purpose committee to review appropriate steps that should be taken in the districts.
Most New Jersey school districts have a policy on Health (file code #5141). To address MRSA, no changes would be needed in the text of the policy. However, schools should have (a) procedures to follow if cases of MRSA are diagnosed or suspected, (b) steps to improve hygiene, and (c) materials to send home to parents and/or to be posted on the district Web site.
Visit NJSBA's online resources regarding MRSA and other infections for more information, or call the NJSBA Legal and Policy Services Department toll free at (888) 886-5722, ext. 5222.
Resources about MRSA
The federal Centers for Disease Control offers these tips for preventing MRSA infections:
- Keep hands clean by washing with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Keep cuts and scrapes clean and bandaged
- Avoid contact with other people's wounds or bandages.
- Avoid sharing items like towels or razors.
Resources for Boards Visit NJSBA's online resources to access the following items:
- MRSA: Preventing Skin Infections in School and Athletic Settings, N.J. Department of Health and Senior Services.
- “Frequently Asked Questions about MRSA,” N.J. Department of Health and Senior Services.
- “Recommendations for the Prevention of Staph Infections,” Illinois Department of Public Health.
- NJSBA Critical Policy Reference Manual, File #5141, “Health” (members only).