FARMINGTON — Mt. Blue High School athletes and their parents were recently briefed about a bacterial infection that has hit several area students.

“It’s an ongoing issue,” said Michael Cormier, superintendent of Mt. Blue Regional School District. “Some students contracted the infection midwinter and last spring but where it continued through the summer, we wanted to be proactive.”

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, called as MSRA, is a bacteria that is resistant to certain types of antibiotics and is easily spread. Although it is often associated with medical treatment facilities, over the last few years outbreaks have developed within the community in healthy and even young individuals.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t have data pertaining to high school athletics, but sports teams, especially those involving contact sports, are a group at risk for MRSA, said Dr. Andrew Pelletier, medical epidemiologist with the Division of Infectious Disease. He added that athletes in football and wrestling and sometimes other sports are vulnerable.

The bacteria is spread by contact with an infected person or items they’ve touched, Pelletier said. The spread can be attributed to simple hygiene issues such as kids sharing towels and other personal items. An awareness of the issue for parents and athletes, early detection and treatment and a focus on prevention are recommended.

A local parent of an infected teen echoed that sentiment this week. Rodney Schanck said the student population needs to be even more vigilant about personal hygiene, covering cuts and bruises and being aware.

His son is now free of the infection but recently spent three weeks in the hospital and underwent two surgeries at Eastern Maine Medical Center. His illness developed while he was involved in three sports within the athletic community this summer, Schanck said.

The severity of the infection can vary from a small skin infection to a life-threatening experience, Pelletier said.

Where students from Mt. Blue contracted the disease is not known, Cormier said. A grandparent of one child suggested an information session so the school decided to have the new sports trainer, Dan Waterman, speak at the fall sports initiation program.

It has not been determined whether all students, many of whom take physical education classes, will receive the same information when school resumes Aug. 31, Cormier said.

Some preventive procedures are similar to those endorsed in combating H1N1 or meningitis among students.

Waterman told the group to make sure open cuts are covered and to not share water bottles, soaps, towels and other personal items, said Todd Demmons, the new athletic director at Mt. Blue. Preventive measures are mostly common sense including washing hands and making sure to shower after practices, he said.

Waterman said he also discussed other ways to help stay clean. MRSA can be contracted from anywhere and from other schools through contact with other athletes. Mt. Blue is not the only school facing the issue, he said.

The school does have protocols in place including school nurses and physicians, Principal Monique Poulin said.

“We began last year educating coaches, students and families,” she said. “Educating is what we do. We wanted to keep parents in the loop and aware of resources. With 1,100 people, including the staff and Foster Tech Center, in close quarters in the building, we absolutely want to keep students safe and educated.”

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