ROANE COUNTY HAS 51 MRSA CASES, CALHOUN 9 FOR '07 - "Cause For Concern, Not Cause For Alarm"

By Bob Weaver

MRSA has become common to the area since 2003, but not in enough numbers to consider the presence an outbreak, according to health officials.

Tim Wickam, Regional Epidemiologist with the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department says individual cases of Community Associated MRSA are not reportable in West Virginia, but some health care providers do report cases.

Wickam acknowledged 51 cases of MRSA in Roane County this year, with nine being reported in October.

The reports do not indicate age, sex or address of the person afflicted.

Humbert Zappia, an epidemiologist with the state, says there's no reason for parents to panic about the antibiotic-resistant staph infection.

Zappia says the bacteria is so common that "individual cases are not even reported to the state."

Roane County superintendent Steve Goffreda said, "There are probably cases from within and outside the school system in Roane County, but the Board of Education Office hasn't received any current data from local health care providers as to confirmed cases."

Goffreda said nurses refer anything that looks suspicious, but the physicians typically report directly back to the patients. "If we receive any data from a credible source, we'd be interested in it and would be happy to share it," he said.

Speaking to the Hur Herald yesterday, epidemiologist Wickam said two new cases of MRSA have been reported in Calhoun this month, adding to seven reported earlier.

Calhoun superintendent of schools Jane Lynch told the Herald she did not have knowledge of cases within the Calhoun school system, although precautions and efforts have been in place for several days.

Wirt County has a total of seven cases for the year and Ritchie two. Wirt had two football players hospitalized, but both have reportedly returned to school.

Wickam said the number of reports could represent "just a tip of the iceberg."

He indicated while the recent cases may be cause for concern, they're not cause for alarm.

"The level of panic we're seeing," Wickam says, "even in the media coverage of the Virginia situation, where they're closing schools to do cleaning, that's really an overreaction."

Some West Virginia parents have boycotted their school, while others have stopped school buses.

The Herald has received numerous e-mails and phone calls from Calhoun and regional parents stating their children have been affected by the disease.

Those parents describe some severe symptoms and a level of illness that has caused them serious concern, while others have expressed frustration over the lack of reporting of the cases.

Again, apparently the health department does not routinely report the cases to local school systems, mostly because the number of cases in the region have remained about the same since 2003 and such reporting is not required.

One parent's anger was based on the lack of public information "just confirming MRSA is present."

Since reports of the disease have surfaced, virtually every school system in the region has been taking aggressive action to prevent the spread of the disease.

Certainly, early detection, diagnosis and treatment is important.