Monday, May 19, 2008

Out of the Ballpark

In their final "official" edition of the school year (the kiddos still have the Senior issue next week and the end-of-year issue that's put together by next year's staff), our Newspaper Cherubs hit the ball out of the proverbial park. Seems that a trackie at OHHS contracted MRSA, that deadly, drug-resistant strain of Staph, and nobody "officially" notified anybody else. Lots of pronouncements from Head Track Coach, Principal Man & others about following procedure, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera (insert indignation from Yul Brynner here), but the basic question still remains: Was your head up your Como Se Llama, or what? Not notify a school full of 2,500+ of the most vulnerable about a case of a deadly (we think that might be the operative word here), hard-to-treat (raise any red flags?), easily spread (OK, we give up) infection? Your Humble Scribe--as well as many in the OHHS Community--are proud that someone still cares to stand up for Truth, Justice & The American Way. The story--edited, of course, To Protect The Innocent--follows. It's 1,000+ words, but worth every minute it takes to read. We promise. Props to Rebecca & Jake for tenacity & for possessing the True Reporter's Spirit.

Privacy vs. Safety
MRSA policy leaves some concerned

After a member of the school’s track team was diagnosed in April with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureusis, or MRSA, all student athletes schoolwide were told to bring in their uniforms to their coaches to be sterilized.

However, even in light of October’s MRSA outbreak in parts of the state, during which several high school athletes were diagnosed with the highly contagious disease and at least one student died of the infection, the OHHS student and parent community was never officially informed of this recent case. While athletic and administrative staff say they followed proper procedures in handling the situation, some track parents have expressed concern that team members and the entire student body were not informed of the MRSA diagnosis.

In the OHHS case, a small cut on an athlete’s skin allowed the drug-resistant Staph infection to enter the runner’s body and develop into an abscess during an out-of-state competition. The athlete was then taken to a hospital, where the infection was successfully treated. The runner’s parents contacted the coach, trainers and Director of Student Activities.

The Newspaper is not identifying the member of the track team who contracted MRSA or the runner’s parents in this story because of privacy concerns.

After the team returned to school from out of town, the Head Coach asked all track team members to meet in the Sports Lobby for an announcement about what had happened. The athletes were informed that they would need to bring their uniforms to school to be disinfected in a special MRSA-killing agent. Track parents were not officially notified by the coaches or the school, although the school contacted the County Health Department to report the MRSA case.

“We didn’t need to formally say something,” said the Coach. “We don’t need to create hysteria over one case.”

The DSA and the Head Trainers, who declined to comment for this story citing a School District directive, had instructed the Track Coach and other coaches and trainers to make sure all uniforms were treated and told them that no schoolwide announcement needed to be made. The decision was made, the DSA said, in order to respect the privacy of the athlete.

“My first inclination is about protection of individual rights,” the DSA said. “The circumstances were very individual in nature, so privacy is a big deal. We just make sure uniforms are clean.”

Community-acquired MRSA, or MRSA-CA, requires direct contact to spread. The bacteria can colonize on the skin without ever entering the body and causing an infection. This proves particularly problematic when student athletes share uniforms, as bacteria from one student’s skin can travel to another’s from shared shorts or jerseys. The school’s runners are now taking extra precautions after seeing the real danger of MRSA-CA.

“The whole team is a little more careful now about sharing uniforms,” said a junior runner. “Everybody’s just more aware.”

But even the uniform-washing policy was not strictly enforced. When a senior runner missed the window to turn in her uniform due to a scheduling conflict, she was only asked by coaches to make sure her uniform was cleaned in hot water before she wore it again. The senior ran in a meet the next day, even though her uniform had not been washed in the solution. She said, however, that she wasn’t worried and was happy that she got to compete.

“If it was protocol, I shouldn’t have competed,” said the senior runner. “But when you look at the situation, it wasn’t a problem at all.”

The appropriate response to a MRSA case at school is ultimately determined by School District policy, on which the DSA declined to comment. According to the County Health Department spokesperson, due to the individual nature of the case at OHHS, “widespread notification” of parents was deemed unnecessary. Had there been several cases with connected infections, students and their parents would have been notified.

“The measures taken by OHHS in this particular case were appropriate and conformed to the County’s policy,” said the County Health Department employee.

Principal Man also said that the school’s response was out of his hands. He said his actions were dictated by the School District policy, as were those of the DSA and the coaches. The administration, Principal Man said, has taken proactive MRSA prevention measures before. Girls were asked to keep their shoes on during the Homecoming Dance in October, and the wrestling room’s mats are cleaned more thoroughly. In the case of the track athlete, it was not up to him.

“We turn to the Health Department and take their lead,” said Principal Man. “I have to trust them–I am not an infectious disease expert. It doesn’t matter what I think.”

MRSA’s media attention in 2007 prompted the OHHS athletic department to issue general information about the infection and its prevention to student athletes and their parents. In addition, all athletes are required to watch a brief video on MRSA every sports season. A parent of the athlete treated for the recent infection feels these measures are extensive enough on the part of the school, and it is up to the athletes to decide how to act on the information they’re given.

“The school has done a good job of informing student athletes at the beginning of each sports cycle,” said the parent. “Whether the students take the video seriously is another matter.”

Some track parents, however, believe the response in this case was less than appropriate. One father of a senior runner was one of many parents never officially contacted by the administration or the coaching staff. He found out from his daughter that there had been a case of MRSA on her team. Another parent confirmed that information. The dad would have preferred an official statement from the school to dispel any rumors and help him protect his family’s health.

“Rumors in this situation are often rampant,” he said. “And therefore confirmation from a school official with recommended actions is critical so that the spread of disease can be prevented.” Without adequate information from the school and coaches, the runner’s father feels it is more difficult to do his part as a parent to ensure the well-being of his daughter.

“Responsibility to keep student athletes safe rests with school officials and coaches as well as parents and athletes,” he said.

The parent of the athlete who suffered the MRSA infection is pleased with the steps taken by the school in order to contain the disease while respecting the family’s right to withhold personal information. He feels that the school nurse’s office made efficient use of the literature he supplied from the hospital that treated the athlete and that the Head Coach was, as the parent puts it, “firm” in his administration of the uniform cleaning. Most importantly, he feels the school kept his family’s comfort high on its list of priorities.

“The OHHS community respects privacy,” said the parent. “It is up to parents to be the ultimate guardian of a child’s health and welfare.”


mybellringers said...

Great job!

Melissa B. said...

MyBell: Thanks! I was really surprised that the kids had the curiosity and the stamina to see this through in the middle of AP exams, state testing and the end-of-year hoo-ha. We're awfully proud! :)


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