By Bob Weaver

The Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department in Parkersburg is reporting several cases of MRSA in the region. MRSA is a contagious staph infection, while treatable, does not respond well to conventional antibiotics.

Tim Wickham, Regional Epidemiologist, says Roane has nine cases, Wirt has seven cases and Wood has one. No cases have yet been reported for Calhoun.

The Herald has received numerous reports from parents about MRSA in Calhoun, Wirt and Clay County, indicating their children or acquaintances have the disease.

Several describe serious health problems affecting elementary, middle and high school children.

Dr. Dee Bixler, an epidemiologist with the WV Department of Health, said she was unable to provide individual numbers of MRSA for Clay, Braxton and other regional counties.

Bixler said tracking for MRSA is expensive and there has not been extensive follow-up or data available, according to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Society.

Calhoun superintendent of schools Jane Lynch said Saturday "There are no reported cases of MRSA in Calhoun," at least to her awareness.

Lynch said the problem could appear at anytime, spreading from direct contact mostly in locker rooms and rest rooms.

Lynch said Calhoun schools are following the recommend guidelines to prevent the spread of the disease.

"We're doing everything we know to do," she said.

Wirt superintendent of schools Dan Metz said "We had at least two students who were hospitalized with MRSA, but they have been released and are doing o.k."

Metz said parents have been advised about the disease and necessary precautions, saying the Wirt system has hired extra custodial help to sanitize and "make sure the kids are safe."

Wickham says "Over the last week I have been in contact with the school nurse or other school officials in Calhoun, Roane, Wirt, and Wood Counties regarding MRSA infections and information on what should be done in response to cases or outbreaks among students or staff."

Wickham says "The WV Legislative rule 64CSR7 (The Reportable Disease Rule) individual cases of Community Associated MRSA are not reportable. At the same time another part of the Rule requires the reporting of an outbreak or unusual cluster of any communicable disease."

"To that end some healthcare providers do report MRSA case counts to us weekly, but these reports should in no way be considered a total number of actual cases occurring in our counties."

Health officials say this resistant staph infection is something that "we are going to live with," because many people have colonies of staph in their nose without ever showing symptoms, and because even when found, these colonies are difficult to eliminate.

MRSA last surfaced in Roane County in 2004 among athletes and school personnel. At that time, the Health Department said there was a "close-knit social group in Calhoun County" with the disease.

Dick Wittberg of the MOVHD says "The major risk we have seen is misdiagnosis of MRSA. The hospitals and clinics in our area are on the look-out for it and tend to culture everything that could be MRSA."

"If diagnosed correctly, the patient can be put on drugs that work. It is when they are sent home without drugs because the ER thinks it is just spider-bites or an injury that had bad outcomes can potentially happen," Wittberg said.

He said confusing MRSA with a spider bite can cause serious problems for the victim.

Personal hygiene (hand washing) is essential, and all wounds should be covered.

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