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Closing all schools was proper thing to do, doctor says




Letcher County school officials did the proper thing by calling off classes for one day last week after a student was diagnosed with a drugresistant staph infection, says an infectious disease specialist who practices medicine here.

Classes were back in session Monday after workers spent last Thursday using Lysol cleaner to disinfect classrooms, restrooms, lunchrooms and all other facilities used by high school and elementary school students. (Classes had already been called off for Friday because of Letcher County Central High School’s appearance in the state volleyball tournament.) Every school building in the county system was ordered to be closed and disinfected after Superintendent Anna Craft was notified that a student was diagnosed with a boil caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, more commonly known as staph.

“Actually what they did was good, because they cleansed the whole school,” said Dr. Fares J. Khater, who practices at Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation’s Whitesburg Medical Clinic. “They ‘Lysoled’ everything and made it a safer environment.”

The Letcher County school system is one of many nationwide that have closed for brief periods since October 15, when a 17-year-old high school senior in Virginia died after a staph infection spread to his kidneys, liver, lungs and muscles around his heart. The sense of urgency in many school districts increased on October 17 when the Journal of the American Medical Association published a government study showing that more than 90,000 Americans get potentially deadly infections each year from a drug-resistant staph “superbug” like the one that killed the boy in Virginia. The study, which was covered widely by media including The Mountain Eagle, concluded that deaths caused by the bug, known as methicillinresistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), may soon exceed deaths caused by AIDS. MRSA is resistant to methicilllin and other commonly used antibiotics like penicillin, amoxicillin and oxacillin.

“It’s good to be aware of it,” Dr. Khater said of the study and MRSA, “but we should not panic.”

Khater, one of the few infectious disease specialists practicing in eastern Kentucky, said the number of cases involving methicillin resistant staph is no higher now than when he moved to Letcher County.

“It’s no different here than any other place in the United States,” said Khater. “I’ve been doing this for five years and it hasn’t changed. There’s (just) more awareness in the media.”

The Letcher County student was diagnosed with a staph infection known as “community associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus,” or CA MRSA. Most people treated for staph infections here have CA MRSA, Khater said.

“People come in with a boil that hurts a lot and is most commonly described by the patient as a spider bite (even though) they’ve not seen the spider,” Khater said.

Most boils start as an infected hair follicle and can be cured with simple drainage.

Khater said parents should use “common sense” if they or their child develops a boil. He points out that less than one percent “lead to a serious infection that will be severe.”

Khater said that if a boil “doesn’t get better and is painful and starts draining,” a physician should be consulted.

Good hygiene is the answer to preventing boils and stopping the spread of CA MRSA, Khater said.

“Shower once a day or more,” he said, “and wash your hands often with soap and warm water.”

Khater said it is very important that people not share personal items such as clothing, towels, razors, and sports jerseys. “Those are the most common things people share,” he said.

Khater said that up until just a few years ago nearly all boils could be treated with antibiotics such a penicillin, but that CA MRSA requires treatment with other antibiotics.

“It’s a new strain of staph, but we’ve known about it for five years,” said Khater. “And we’ve been treating it for five years, too.”


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