Patients testing positive for MRSA, a bacterium infection, at the Klotz Student Health Center more than doubled during the last two years. There were 15 different cases confirmed at the clinic in 2007 compared to seven cases in 2006, said Dr. Samia Boctor, a staff physician at the clinic.
The clinic has treated additional patients for MRSA in that period, but those patients were tested by another facility.
Boctor said she does not believe there are necessarily more skin infections, in general, but that this particular infection has become more common in community settings.
“We are seeing an increase in skin infections with this resistant bacteria,” said Boctor.
MRSA or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus is a bacterial infection that is resistant to many antibiotics. This is more of an issue at hospitals, according to the Centers for Disease Control, where the bacteria can cause serious surgical wound infections in those who have a weakened immune system.
But community-associated MRSA, which causes skin infections such as boils and pimples, is now affecting healthy people.
The infection might look like a spider bite in its first stages.
Students who live in the dorms and use a gym regularly or play team sports should always be concerned when it comes to staph infections such as MRSA, said Dr. Eric Sletten.
“We have a lot of athletes who live with each other and practice together and they’re in very close contact,” said Sletten, who works with CSUN athletes.
MRSA is not something of which to be afraid, though, it’s something that people need to be aware of, said Sletten.
“It’s always been around,” said Sletten.
The infection is easily transmitted through contact of the skin from one person to another or through sharing towels.
Boctor said that it is normal to have this type of bacteria on one’s skin, but when the bacteria takes hold inside the skin, possibly through a cut, then it can cause an infection.
“It can go from a small pimple to a big abscess very fast,” said Boctor.
CA-MRSA is treatable either through antibiotics or through drainage of the abscess.
And the Klotz Student Health Center follows universal precautions to make sure that nothing is passed on from one patient to the next.
“We wear gloves anytime we touch a patient with any kind of infection,” said Boctor.
“If we are to open an abscess, we use a special gown on top of our clothes. We use a face mask and goggles so we don’t get colonized with the bacteria and give it to somebody else,” she said.
Recent legislation, introduced by Sen. Elaine Alquist of Santa Clara, proposes to go a step further in prevention methods at California schools by requiring more tracking of the infection itself.
Chief of Staff for Sen. Alquist, Sailaja Rajappan, said that one provision in the Superbug Legislation would require labs that do staph testing for schools to report their findings to the County Health Officer and the State Department of Public Health.
“The idea behind this is that there would be an ability to quickly track where the hot spots are and intervene before there are more cases of MRSA,” said Rajappan.
The CDC indicates that there were close to 18,650 deaths associated with MRSA in U.S. hospitals in 2005.
CA-MRSA, on other hand, is usually not as serious, but can become worse if not treated early.
“One of the scary things about staph aureus is that it can spread and cause a lot of tissue destruction,” said Sletten.
There are simple precautions that students and athletes can take on a daily basis to protect themselves from CA-MRSA, he explained, including washing their hands with regular soap and water and using an antibacterial gel occasionally.
Bringing wipes to the gym to clean off exercise equipment is helpful too.
But, at the same time, he said it’s probably not a good idea to fall into the anti-bacterial soap craze that’s been going on because some bacteria are supposed to be on our body.
“Our bodies are covered with bacteria. There is a happy existence,” said Sletten.
If you have a cut that becomes red, puffy, painful and hot, and has puss, then that is the first sign to see a doctor, he said.