After three cases of an increasingly dangerous strain of staph bacteria hit high schools in the East Bay this week, San Francisco school officials are on high alert, sending out reminders to staff and students to wash hands and practice proper first-aid methods.
While there has never been a confirmed case of the bacteria in San Francisco public schools, health officials say the cases in Contra Costa County are a stark reminder that school communities are at high risk for the pathogen — which killed a 17-year-old football player in Virginia on Monday and shuttered dozens of schools in the Midwest and East Coast this week.
Staphylococcus aureus, or staph, is a common germ that lives on skin and inside noses. About 20 percent to 50 percent of people carry the bacteria but remain unaffected, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
A strain known as MRSA, however, started resisting penicillin-related antibiotics in the 1960s, according to the department. It can be spread by skin-to-skin contact, living in crowded conditions and by sharing contaminated objects such as towels, clothes, sports equipment and soap bars.
“It’s always on my mind,” said Maryann Rainy, a school district nurse based at Lowell High School in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset district. “I’m not frightened of it, but it’s not going to go away. I see students and staff who come to see me for a consultation, and at every opportunity I remind them to wash their hands.”
Schools are considered high-risk areas, as students regularly come into close contact with each other, especially student athletes.
Rainey said teachers are reminded each school year to cover their own wounds and to use gloves if they help a student or co-worker. Posters reminding students to wash their hands are plastered across schools districtwide, she said.
Each school is also assigned custodians who clean with intensive disinfectants.
“If people wash their hands, cover up wounds and use gloves appropriately, it minimizes the spread,” Rainey said.