Thursday, October 25, 2007

Measure to help in tracking MRSA

The governor told laboratories to report cases to the state's health department.

RICHMOND -- Gov. Tim Kaine on Wednesday approved an emergency regulation that requires laboratories to report cases of an antibiotic-resistant form of staph infection to state health officials, a move prompted in part by last week's death of a Bedford County teenager.

The new regulation will allow the Virginia Department of Health to compile data on Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus -- or MRSA -- infections, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently identified as a major public health problem. The bacteria are resistant to penicillin and related antibiotics.

Concerns about MRSA heightened in Virginia last week after the death of Ashton Bonds, a 17-year-old Staunton River High School student who, according to his mother, had been diagnosed with the staph infection. Schools throughout the state have been reporting outbreaks of MRSA and other staph infections, prompting state officials to step up efforts to educate the public about prevention measures.

Until Kaine approved the new regulation, the state had not required reporting of MRSA infections to the health department. The governor indicated last week that his administration would change that policy to address growing public concerns.

"Our public health community is very concerned about the growing challenge of monitoring and controlling MRSA in both health care and community settings," Kaine said Wednesday in a statement issued by his office. "The reporting of MRSA infections will allow VDH to respond to requests and expectations for data from the concerned public, health care professionals and policymakers."

A diagnosis of MRSA requires laboratory testing, according to the state health department. By having labs report cases directly to the health department, officials quickly can assess the extent of the problem and track patterns of MRSA infections, said state Health Commissioner Robert Stroube.

"In addition to reporting, our emphasis will be on prevention and intervention measures, which include local health departments collaborating with local school divisions, increased public education and communications with health care providers on the proper use of antibiotics," Stroube said in the governor's news release.

State Superintendent for Public Instruction Billy Cannaday last week advised school superintendents to consult with local health departments about steps to control and prevent MRSA.

Recommended prevention measures include frequent hand washing, covering open wounds and not sharing personal items such as towels, razors or athletic equipment. Medical treatment is advised for people with wounds that are red, have pus or are not healing properly, officials said.

The health department has additional information about MRSA available on its Web site, www.vdh.virginia.gov.

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