Staph bacteria resist antibiotic, producing scare

Brittany Jansen, Freshman in AHS, cleans an elliptical machine in the CRCE Fitness Area on Thursday afternoon, Nov. 1, 2007. The staff watches in particular in their cleaning duties to get areas of the machine other than the handlebars, which are often th Erica Magda

Brittany Jansen, Freshman in AHS, cleans an elliptical machine in the CRCE Fitness Area on Thursday afternoon, Nov. 1, 2007. The staff watches in particular in their cleaning duties to get areas of the machine other than the handlebars, which are often th Erica Magda

By Paolo Cisneros

Cases of the antibiotic-resistant staph “superbug” were reported in at least a half dozen states during the month of October and have been responsible for multiple deaths, according to the Associated Press.

The methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, an extremely powerful form of staph bacteria, does not respond to the penicillin or other antibiotics, is highly contagious and spreads easily, making it a major concern on college campuses nationwide.

Staph infections, which can vary in severity, are often contracted when an open wound becomes infected after coming in contact with staph bacteria. Their contraction in gymnasiums and locker rooms is a common occurrence, making athletes especially susceptible.

Jesse Clements, director of Campus Recreation, acknowledges the threat staph infections pose to those who frequent his department’s facilities.

“We’ve been aware of the problem for a long time and have been taking precautions to ensure our facilities are safe,” he said. “It’s a serious problem.”

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    Proper sanitation, he said, is the key to deterring staph bacteria from spreading. In addition to sanitizing mats and building equipment on a daily basis, Campus Recreation recently purchased a Gym Valet kit for every exercise machine in its facilities. The kit, which consists of a towel and powerful disinfectant spray, encourages sanitation and proper hygiene among gym patrons.

    “We’re actually among the largest Gym Valet purchasers in the world,” Clements said. “I don’t know if all our patrons necessarily use it, but it being there certainly encourages it.”

    A government report estimates that 90,000 Americans get some form of staph infection each year. Its prevalence poses a problem to Clements and others who run exercise facilities.

    “It’s tough for us because when someone gets the virus you don’t know whether they got it in one of our facilities or somewhere else they work out,” he said. “This type of bacteria can be prevalent in any gymnasium.”

    Jim Roberts, infection control manager at the Carle Foundation Hospital, agrees that hygiene plays an important role in preventing the spread of staph infections.

    “We have all sorts of policies that are aimed at keeping our hospital sanitary,” he said. “We go by strict hand-washing standards and have alcohol-based hand sanitizers that are extremely effective.”

    Carle Foundation Hospital, Roberts said, adheres to the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s policies which are aimed at stopping the unnecessary disbursement of the staph virus through strict sanitation procedures and the isolation of infected patients.

    While the superbug is resistant to penicillin and other antibiotics, treatment is possible if it is detected early enough. Its detection, though, can often be a difficult task.

    “It presents itself as a skin contaminant much like a boil,” Roberts said. “Some people think it’s a spider bite initially.”

    Once the patient has been positively diagnosed, treatment can vary.

    “It’s up to the physician to choose the line of treatment,” Roberts said. “It really depends on the extent of the infection.”

    Jered Hartman, freshman in the Engineering, frequently visits Campus Rec facilities, and acknowledges that gym patrons are often unaware of the threat that the staph virus poses. He also said that while infection is a serious issue, most gym regulars do not give the issue much thought.

    “I come to work out,” he said. “I don’t usually think about who’s been on a machine before me.”