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MRSA bacteria causes lock down, treatment of areas at high school


Last updated 1/25/2008 at Noon

After a Fallbrook High School coach was hospitalized January 20 and diagnosed with a MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infection (commonly known as the antibiotic-resistant Superbug), the wrestling and weight rooms at the school were locked down for three days until appropriate measures could be taken to disinfect the premises.

“We consulted with the Public Health Department, were advised how to handle the situation, and immediately locked down the areas that may have posed a risk to students,” said Dr. Peter Fellios, District Director of Student Services and Safety Officers. “[The Health Department] said it is not necessary to close a school in order to disinfect it; rather, that a thorough disinfection of the exposed area(s) is sufficient.”

It is not certain where or when the coach contracted the infection, or if any area at the high school was infectious. Fellios said it is important to note that the coach “did not have any open wounds, bleeding, or seepage from the affected area.” When the coach was admitted to the hospital, he had swelling in one of his arms. Friends say he had no other external manifestations of the infection. In many cases involving MRSA, the infection can appear as boils or lesions on the surface of the skin.

Fellios said when the coach was on campus prior to being hospitalized, he had the affected arm wrapped and was wearing both a long-sleeved shirt and jacket. Given the potential severity of the situation, Fellios was not taking any chances.

“The Public Health Department has said the school is most likely not contaminated, but our staff disinfected the weight room, all the equipment, all surfaces, mats, walls, floors, everything,” Fellios said. “[The coach] was also using a cart that we thoroughly disinfected.” Fellios explained that all of the areas were air-dried, based on the recommendation of the health department.

“That said it was important to let the areas air dry after cleaning them, not to wipe them,” he noted.

The District utilized both their dial-out telephone message system and email to contact the parents of the 3,000+ student population to advise them of the situation and the measures being taken.

San Diego County Health Officer, Dr. Wilma Wooten, said, “With the lesion being closed and not oozing, it can’t be transmitted to anybody else. Understanding the precautions they have taken, I would say [Fallbrook High School] have gone above and beyond to protect students.” Wooten also said about 25% of the population carries staph bacteria in their nose or on their skin. MRSA, Wooten said, is only one type of staph, but it is resistant to penicillin antibiotics.

“Actually, one person out of every hundred in the general population are carriers of MRSA,” Wooten noted.

While most infections that result from staph are minor (such as boils or pimples) and can be addressed with antibiotics, some can cause more serious infections such as those in the bloodstream and joints. Today, in the United States, medical sources say the number of cases of staph infections that do not respond to antibiotics is on the increase. For sports teams, said to be the highest ‘at risk’ group, it is a concern in the forefront.

“I can tell you that we have worked very hard to keep our area as clean as we possibly can, using every technique we can think of,” said one parent actively involved in the wrestling program.

Fellios said it is important to note that the coach’s case so far is an isolated one, that there have been no reports of a second incidence on campus.

“If a second case does arise, we will be on the phone with Public Health immediately, we are not hiding anything,” Fellios emphasized. In addition, Fellios says he welcomes any input from members of the community that have specialized knowledge in this area.

“We know we have a lot of professionals out there and additional suggestions are welcome,” he said. Fellios also said he was going to ask the interim superintendent, Dr. French, for permission to have all the areas treated for a second time over the weekend.

“I want to make a second sweep of all the areas; I know I am erring on the side of caution but we have a responsibility to the kids,” Fellios said.

With student safety a high concern at any school, Fellios said there are standard good hygiene practices and precautionary measures that every parent should teach their child, for example:

• Do not share personal items such as towels, clothing, combs, soap, or other items that touch the skin.

• Regularly wash athletic uniforms and thoroughly clean equipment.

• Wash your hands regularly with soap and water.

If a student complains of muscle pain and is running a low grade fever, has a skin wound that develops a blister, boil, redness or swelling, the parent or guardian should seek medical treatment for him or her immediately.

Outbreaks of MRSA, on a nationwide basis, have been particularly prevalent in the sports of football, basketball, wrestling, and volleyball.

For more information on MRSA, go to the California Department of Public Health Web site at

Story Updated on January 28th.


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