A Martin Luther King High School football player has died after contracting methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a contagious infection becoming more common in schools and gyms.

Saalen Jones, a 17-year-old senior, died Tuesday at Albert Einstein Medical Center, said Fernando Gallard, a spokesman for the Philadelphia School District.

The teenager's father took him to Einstein after finding him semiconscious in bed. The teenager, who had complained of neck pain, died the same day.

Yesterday, the results of an exam conducted to determine cause of death indicated that Jones had died of MRSA.

The school responded in part by canceling a football game scheduled for last night and sending a letter to parents.

In the letter, Principal Kris Diviny said that King will follow Department of Public Health requirements for cleaning the school.

"We want to assure everyone that all of the necessary steps are being taken to ensure the health of our entire school community," Diviny said. "We remain committed to providing a safe and healthy environment to all our students."

Any student who came in close contact with Jones will be screened.

"We have no knowledge of other cases, but we are taking precautions to make sure that everyone who came into close contact with the athlete is getting checked out," Gallard said. "We did find two players that had some sort of lesions that led us to believe they need to get to the doctor to get it checked out."

The Philadelphia Health Department was at King yesterday, Gallard said, talking to athletes and staff about MRSA.

MRSA is a type of staph infection. Staph bacteria is commonly found on the skin or in the nose, and can cause minor infections that heal without antibiotics. More serious staph infections can cause bloodstream infections or pneumonia.

MRSA infections were once seen almost exclusively in hospital patients, but are becoming more common in schools and gyms across the country. Community-associated MRSA is spread most often by direct, skin-to-skin contact; it cannot be spread through the air.

Those who play close-contact sports such as football and wrestling are at particular risk.

Most MRSA infections can be treated with antibiotics, but the only way to determine whether someone has MRSA is through a skin culture.

Preventing MRSA Skin Infections

Some steps to prevent methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections from spreading in schools and communities:

Keep hands clean by washing with soap and water or using an alcohol-based sanitizer.

Keep cuts and scrapes clean and bandaged until healed.

Avoid contact with other people's wounds or bandages.

Avoid sharing personal and skin care items such as towels, cosmetics, deodorant and razors.

Shower with soap after every sports practice or game.

SOURCE: Philadelphia Department of Health

Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146 or kgraham@phillynews.com.