Your MRSA Questions Answered

Tonight "World News With Charles Gibson" reported on a drug-resistant staph infection that could be putting your family at risk. The bug, called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, was once only a threat in hospitals. Now MRSA has spread into communities.

We recently invited you to post your questions about this "superbug" on our message boards. We sent your questions to the ABC News Medical Unit for the expert answers below.

Question: Yesterday a letter was sent home with my children informing us that there are two reported cases of MRSA in our school. I found some information online about it along with prevention help. When I asked some staff members what special cleaning and disinfecting measures were being taken I was told none, just the usual cleaning. On "GMA" I saw a piece on this staph infection at a school and they showed a man in a special suit with gloves cleaning all the desks.

I know this type of thorough cleaning is not happening in our school. I called the CDC to ask them if our school should be doing more and the woman on the phone told me that all people have staph in them and my children are in no danger. She also said the cleaning staff should wear gloves but that is about it. She said that it is not the superbug the media is calling it and I shouldn't worry about it, but if I had further questions I could call back.

Who do I listen to? Should more be being done in the school? Should I worry? Is it just being blown way out of proportion like the schools and CDC say?

Henry Masur, immediate past president, Infectious Disease Society of America: Staph infections have been with us for centuries: We know how to recognize them, we know how to treat them, and we know a lot about how to prevent them. There is no doubt that staph infections are a problem. What is new, however, is public awareness that more and more staph are resistant to the drugs we have used in the past. Your school almost certainly never asked students to report staph infections until recent weeks. Cases have undoubtedly occurred before, and will continue to occur.

There is no reason to panic, but there is need for prudent, common sense approaches. We know that staph is spread by direct skin to skin contact, thus hand washing and showering make sense. We know that abrasions in the skin can get infected. These infections need to be treated promptly so that they do not become serious.

Up to 40 percent of the population do have staph in their nose either persistently or intermittently. Most of the time they do not suffer any illness as a result, even though some of these staph are MRSA.

Cleaning you skin (hand-washing) and cleaning clothes and towels make eminent sense. If some schools wish to disinfect class rooms, computer key boards or benches and other surfaces in locker rooms, they should act as they deem appropriate. However, such environmental cleaning is not likely to have the impact of hand washing, washing towels and athletic uniforms regularly and covering abrasions that may be infected.

If your school is emphasizing hand washing, regular laundering of athletic equipment, and personal responsibility about avoiding sharing towels and clothing, your school is taking a logical and appropriate approach to MRSA.

Question: I am curious if thorough hand washing is a way to prevent contracting an MRSA? Could you let me know if there are other precautions to take?

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