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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    MRSA Cases On Campus

    At least three Stony Brook Univeristy residents contracted infections of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, university officials confirmed Wednesday during an afternoon press conference.

    MRSA is a particular strain of staphylococcus aureus — commonly referred to as staph — that is more resistant to anti-biotics such as methicillin, penicillin, and amoxicillin.

    Around 30 percent of the population naturally has staph bacteria on their skin or in nasal passages where it doesn’t cause any problems, simply taking advantage of the warm, moist environment that bacteria relish. Most of these people never get infected.

    “If it’s not causing any problems, it’s not an issue,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Stony Brook University Medical Center. “MRSA has been around for decades. It’s not a new thing.”

    When bacteria enters the bloodstream — usually through physical contact with open wounds — it can cause health problems. Cuts affected with MRSA develop redness around the infection that sometimes escalates into an abscess or boil that causes fever, pus, swelling, or pain.

    The most rare — but deadliest — cases of MRSA can cause infections in the bloodstream, joints, bones, heart, lungs, as well as pneumonia and potentially death. This particular strain of bacterium has become prominent in the news due to deaths in the most advanced stages. What makes MRSA alarming to many is its resistance to certain antibiotics.

    Campus medical experts insist that there is no cause to panic about MRSA.

    According to experts, although penicillin does not work against MRSA, there are plenty of other effective antibiotics.

    “The phrase ‘superbug’ has been used unnecessarily,” said Dr. Susan Donelan, a specialist in adult infectious disease at the Stony Brook University Medical Center. “In fact, you can prevent MRSA just by using proper hygiene just like your mother always told you.”

    MRSA is generally contracted in hospitals, where patients are more likely to have weakened immune systems. However, MRSA is also present in crowded settings and communities like dormitories.

    MRSA is not new on the Stony Brook University scene. According to Robert Ansbach, the associate director of Student Health Services, “There are cases every year. They just have not been reported.”

    For the past two years, there have been signs — complete with close-up photographs of worst-case scenarios — around the Sports Complex advising athletes on how they should keep themselves clean and avoid sharing personal equipment, which houses the team locker rooms, the athletic training room, the laundry rooms, and other facilities for the 300-plus student athletes.

    These signs appeared after an athlete contracted an infection several years ago. Donelan pointed out that basic hygiene practices ensure that infection does not come to fruition.

    “This bacterium might be resistant to penicillin, but it is not resistant to things such as soap, bleach, and showering,” she said. “Use a clean towel after you use workout equipment, and cover open wounds.”

    In spite of the fact that MRSA commonly spreads within one small area, the infections of the several students do not seem to be linked. Ansbach said that the several infected students “are not from the same living area, nor are they related in any way. This does not look like an epidemic.”

    Ansbach was able to say that Student Health Services treated the cases, but due to privacy laws, he could neither confirm nor deny the rumors that at least one of the infected students lives in H Quad, nor could he disclose other personal information. He emphasized that cleanliness suffices for preventing the infection — the usual household and bathroom cleaners kill the bacteria.

    If a student does have an infected wound of any sort, Nachman and Donelan both emphasized not permitting these skin infections to fester. Donelan said that the standard redness that accompanies a cut is a “simple irritation” and thus generally not something to panic over.

    However, Donelan emphasized the importance of seeking medical assistance if need be. “If this redness expands and starts streaking away from the area and swelling, then you need to see a doctor,” Donelan said.

    In treating these infections, alternative antibiotics to penicillin are used. “You take medicine, cover it up so it does not spread, and yes, you are allowed to go to class,” Nachman said. “You won’t infect anybody as long as you keep it covered.” Removing students from dorms or quarantining the infected individuals is unnecessary. All that is needed is proper hygiene.

    The campus does not intend to undergo a lengthy investigation into the matter.

    “If there’s no epidemiological link, there’s no justification for delving deeper into possible dormitory issues. There is no cluster,” said Donelan.

    “The unfortunate deaths over the past couple of years have been sensationalized,” she said. “This sensation is advantageous, because it raises awareness that a perfectly healthy person can potentially become very sick if they don’t take care of themselves and keep themselves clean.”

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