Staph "Superbug" Panics Parents
> 10/29/2007 10:07:35 AM

A hyper-resistant strain of the ever-present staph aureus virus has left at least two children dead and a nation of parents in a state of paranoia, fearful that the virulent bacteria may be hiding in hallways, bathrooms and classrooms. Some schools have even been closed temporarily in order to be scrubbed from top to bottom with disinfectant; this move is designed to temper irrational fears of a deadly epidemic rather than improve health conditions at the schools in question.

All seven existing staph vaccines have failed to contain this newest strain, which may, like other staph variants, reside on the fingers, in the nose or on the surface of any scraped knees or other open wounds on the skin. It has infected at least 13 children, in many cases entering through the ear. The first of these infected kids suffered hearing loss in both ears; some say that doctors may have to resort to eardrum puncture techniques in order to drain the fluid from the ears of infected children. The resulting image is hardly encouraging. Confirmed staph deaths of a 12-year-old Brooklyn student and a 17-year-old Virginian earlier this month reinforce the staph superbug's reputation as a potentially fatal invader, and parents are right to regard it as such, but experts assert that the current outbreak is too small to warrant prematurely widespread anxiety.

While many receive vaccines for staph each year as a standard precautionary measure, the procedure is hardly a dated formality like testing for TB: many will be shocked to hear that staph infects approximately 90,000 Americans each year (32 "invasive infections" per 100,000 people) and has a total death toll larger than that of HIV/AIDS. A virus most often contracted in a hospital setting that subsequently infects newly treated wounds, staph is often passive and relatively harmless: many healthy people carry the bacteria in their noses or on their skin for some time and do not experiencing any of the notable side-effects of active infection. Still, the bacteria may spread rapidly, requiring little beyond proximity or physical contact to make its mark: ten members of an athletic team from New Rochelle, New York have tested positive. It also sometimes proves destructive, leaving painful lesions on the flesh, disrupting the immune system and even, in its most extreme cases, leading to other potentially deadly conditions like pneumonia, meningitis or toxic shock syndrome.

Protecting oneself from possible staph infection is relatively simple. The process consisting of all the things your mother once told you to do: wash your hands regularly, carefully bandage cuts, wash your hands regularly, take the full course of antibiotics when they've been prescribed, wash your hands regularly, do not share personal items such as razors and toothbrushes, and, above all, wash your hands regularly. Experts cannot pinpoint exactly how the late Brooklyn boy contracted the virus, but parents will not do their children any favors by keeping them away from school or giving them sets of irrational rules (don't sit near any other children at lunch, etc.) to avoid the staph spectre. The death of a child is always tragic, and this condition can be very serious for the unfortunate few who catch it, but it does not add up to an epidemic, and parents should be sure that their concerns remain realistic.

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