BROOKSVILLE - Two cases of Staph, a bacterial skin infection, were recently confirmed at Hernando High School.
The health department sent a letter to parents on Oct. 17 explaining that two cases of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, were confirmed at a school, but did not mention the location.
School superintendent Lori Romano said both confirmed cases were Hernando High School students.
"Our school community was informed, and I think it's important we keep our community informed," said Romano. "The letter indicates the precautions to take."
The letter states the skin infection was likely spread by someone having direct contact with an infected person, sharing personal items such as towels and razors, or touching contaminated surfaces or items like used bandages.
MRSA is an antibiotic resistant-strain of bacteria. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, MRSA has evolved over the past 40 years from a controllable nuisance into a serious public health concern.
Over the past few months, MRSA has gained considerable media attention after three Tampa Bay Buccaneers football players were diagnosed with the infection.
"If you're a parent, of course it's a big deal," said Ann-Gayl Ellis, spokesperson for the Hernando County Health Department. "The MRSA we usually get worried about is hospital-acquired MRSA."
Ellis said MRSA is not a reportable disease, so the health department is not necessarily alerted for every case in the community. According to an epidemiology nurse at the health department, a lot of people are already walking around with the infection.
Ellis said the school with the confirmed Staph diagnosis prompted a lot of phone calls from parents to the health department, which is why the department decided to draft and send the letter.
"Our school health nurse said students typically do not stay home with MRSA, but take medicine and keep the infection wrapped," Ellis said. "There are cases in the community all the time, it just so happens we got a lot of calls on this one."
The bacteria is largely a hospital-acquired infection, according to the National Institutes of Health, and is typically problematic for the elderly, people with weakened immune systems and for patients undergoing kidney dialysis or using venous catheters or prosthetics.
However, recent strains have emerged that are capable of causing severe infections in otherwise healthy people.
"I don't think it's really seasonal," Ellis said. "It is often times more prevalent in contact sports environments like wrestling, and anywhere there is high contact areas, and day cares is another place you might see it, but you typically hear about it with football teams, wrestling teams, or basketball teams."
According to the NIH, a 2005 study found nearly 1 percent, or 292,045 people per year, were hospitalized as a result of MRSA infections.
Good hand washing practices, and disinfecting infected surfaces, utensils, equipment, or toys in educational environments are among the ways to prevent the spread of MRSA, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.