MRSA infection hits RF school

Spotted early, student responding well to treatment

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By BILL DWYER

A student at Lincoln School in River Forest has become infected with MRSA, otherwise known as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, school officials confirmed Tuesday.

District 90 interim superintendent Dr. David Bonnette said the school district contacted all parents through letters last Thursday and Friday in advance of the confirmation.

"We sent out a memo alerting people to be aware of MRSA symptoms in children," said Bonnette. "Immediately on the heels of that came this first instance."

A letter was sent home with all Lincoln school students Monday notifying parents of the confirmed case of MRSA. Bonnette said the infected child was treated immediately with antibiotics and is responding well. Lincoln School is located at 511 Park Ave.

School staff took safety precautions to assure the infection doesn't spread.

"We scrubbed down the classrooms and are following cleaning precautions," said Bonnette.

The MRSA infection is particularly troubling to health and education officials since it can be tough to treat due to its resistance to certain antibiotics. Also of concern is the fact that the initial symptoms are easily mistaken for less serious conditions, like bug bites, "turf burn" or a small wound.

"The early indication was something that looked like a bug bite," said Bonnette.

"Because MRSA can look like less serious conditions, it is easy to see why some cases are overlooked and then become a serious health threat," Lincoln School Principal Pamela Hyde wrote in the letter to parents.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), MRSA is a bacterium that lives on the skin and in the nose of humans, and is unknowingly carried by millions of people. The IDPH estimates that 30 percent of the population carries staph on the skin or in the nose. It can cause infections of the skin, in the blood, in the bones, and in the lungs. It has become resistant to a wide range of antibiotics, including penicillin-related antibiotics.

"We're seeing MRSA infections among otherwise healthy people," said Dr. Damon T. Arnold, state public health director. "We do not know the reason for this change, but want to make sure people know they can protect themselves."

Arnold said public education is the key to keeping the number of MRSA cases to a minimum.

"To reduce the risk of MRSA infection, we must educate staff, students and parents about how it is spread and how to avoid transmission," said Dr. Arnold.

Bonnette said Tuesday that because the infected child's parents were well aware of the possibility of MRSA infection, they immediately consulted a doctor after noticing initial symptoms. A course of antibiotics was begun immediately, before test results were back. Those results, which took about a week to return, were positive for the disease.

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