As schools reopen, warning on serious staph infection

With schools in Philadelphia about to reopen, City Councilman Jack Kelly yesterday issued an alert on a staph infection that on rare occasions can become deadly.

Kelly called a news conference outside City Hall to issue a warning about the dangers of Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA).

As its name implies, the bacteria infection that starts out as a boil on the skin is resistant to antibiotics.

"This is a deadly serious public- health problem," said Kelly.

When Council resumes Sept. 20, Kelly said he would move to have September declared MRSA Awareness Month.

Present at yesterday's news conference was Theresa Drew, mother of Ricky Lannetti, a former Father Judge High School football player who contracted MRSA while a senior at Lycoming College in 2003.

Lannetti died at age 21 and his mother has established Ricky's MRSA Awareness Foundation in his memory.

Dr. Rob Bettiker, of Temple University's Infectious Diseases Department, also at the conference, said that MRSA was once a staph infection mostly contracted in hospitals.

In recent years, he said, MRSA has become a "community-acquired" infection. It can now survive on a person's skin and can be transmitted through the sharing of towels, combs, razors, wash cloths or soaps.

That is why MRSA frequently has been found among members of sports teams.

Scott Cummings, president of the Mayfair Civic Association, was also there yesterday with family members who were infected by MRSA over the summer.

Cummings said he believes his 12-year-old son, an athlete, picked up the bacteria in June just before schools let out. It then spread to his 5-year-old son, his wife and then his 15-year-old daughter. All are healthy now.

Dr. Bettiker said one of the early signs of infection is a "boil that is hard, red, painful and hot."

Reached later at his city Health Department office, Dr. James Dean, the city's medical director, said his office has been working with a number of groups - hospitals, school districts, colleges and prisons - in recent months to develop educational pamphlets about the infection.

Dean said the city has been telling rec-center supervisors to wipe down gym equipment because sweat left on equipment can spread the bacteria to others.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have noted an increase in the infection in the general community - no longer only in hospitals and nursing homes - over the past five years, Dean added.

He said he was glad Kelly called the news conference.

"Any way we can get information out to the public is good." The important thing to remember, Dean added, is this: "You have to wash your hands and have good hygiene." *