By Natalie Crnosija
Dr. Sharon Nachman, a Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist at Stony Brook Medical Center, said last Thursday at a Student Health Services’ press conference that the recent cases of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) at Stony Brook University provided “a wonderful opportunity to talk to students about infectious disease.”
The panel, composed of Nachman, Dr. Susan V. Donelan, an Adult Infectious Disease Specialist at Stony Brook Medical Center, and Robert Ansbach, the Assistant Director of Student Health Services, addressed how MRSA was spread, precautions students should take, proper public reaction, and how to treat MRSA should one become infected by the bacterium.
MRSA, also known as “staph,” is a mutated bacterium which is resistant to penicillin, methicillin and other antibiotics and is commonly found in hospitals and healthcare facilities among patients with compromised immune systems.
According to Nachman, MRSA is no longer confined to hospitals and recent Center for Disease Control studies have shown that up to 30% of the U.S. population is carrying the bacterium. Within that percentage, only one percent of the population is infected with staph.
MRSA permanently colonizes the skin and mucus membranes of its host, according to Donelan. The bacterium is spread by skin-to-skin contact, contact with open wounds, and gym equipment-sharing.
“People will not know they are carrying the bacteria until they cut themselves and get an infection,” Nachman said.
Most staph infections present themselves as a swollen boil or pimple near the point of entry. Without treatment a staph infection can develop into cellulitis, a widespread skin infection which is more difficult to cure than the initial MRSA infection.
“MRSA is very easily managed with oral antibiotics,” said Donelan.
“The important thing is for the infected student to go to Student Health Services and get treatment, the most important thing is to take medication and cover [the skin] up and go to class and you’re not going to infect anyone,” said Nachman.
Infected students have been treated at the Student Health Center, according to Ansbach.
According to Nachman, there is no benefit in making a pariah of an infected student. It is more important to use common sense hygiene and stop the colonization of the bacterium in an area.
“The chain of infection must be broken,” Donelan said. “Jails, dorms and other close-living quarters generate a lot of bacteria and one infected person has already colonized others.”
MRSA is not immune to environmental cleansers, according to Donelan, and the term “superbug” is a misnomer and “unnecessarily worrisome.”
“We have a few cases every year, but there was no issue until the nationally reported deaths last year,” said Ansbach.
The New England Journal of Medicine and Newsday are not the same thing and the relative danger of the bacterium to the public was misrepresented, according to Donelan.
“I usually see two to three patients a week with MRSA,” Nachman said. “They are put on antibiotics and are fine.”