Football game canceled after player contracts MRSA; campus to be disinfected this weekend

By Jeff Chew, Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND - The Port Townsend High School football season ended early Thursday after a player was diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening, antibiotic-resistant strain of staphyloccosus.

Port Townsend School District Superintendent Tom Opstad said the 1 p.m. Saturday game scheduled against Steilacoom at Jefferson County Memorial Field in Port Townsend was canceled as a precaution.

The student player, a senior, was reported to school officials Wednesday as having contracted methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureaus bacteria, or MRSA (pronounced mur-sah), infection.

"We're probably being overly conservative, but we're dealing with kids, so it's better to be concerned," said Opstad.

"We're taking precautions mainly because it's better on the safe side."

The boy's name was not disclosed.

After consulting with state health officials and Jefferson County Health Officer, Dr. Tom Locke, school district officials decided to keep the school open today.

Parents were given the option of keeping their children at home, but asked to report absences to the main office.

Campus to be disinfected
The athletic facilities were closed Thursday and are to be cleaned and disinfected over the weekend, said Opstad.

The school will also sanitize and disinfect surfaces on campus.

The gym, locker room and weight room are closed for the remainder of the week until those areas can be thoroughly sanitized this weekend.

Principal Carrie Ehrhardt and Assistant Principal Patrick Kane sent notes out to parents Thursday.

"This biological infection, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a difficult-to-treat infection in humans as it has the ability to survive many antibiotics," their notice states.

Teachers talked to students Thursday morning during first-period classes about the infection, how it is spread and how it can best be prevented.

"Students were encouraged to report any infected scratches or sores to the office . . .," the Ehrhardt-Kane note said.

It also encouraged parents to check their children:

"If you see anything suspicious, especially resembling a lesion or boil, please seek medical attention immediately.

"We are unable to determine how the student contracted the infection and it is likely that we will never know. We do know that it is highly contagious and easily spread."

Game cancellation
While Locke, who is also Clallam County health officer, said his office was not recommending that Saturday's football game against Steilacoom be canceled.

That, he said, was the school district's decision.

"Among the things we try to emphasize is that nothing has changed about MRSA recently," Locke said.

"It has been building over a decade."

Skin infections with MRSA are not rare, he said.

"This is not something the public should be alarmed about. But they should be informed about it," Locke said.

An increasing number of MRSA cases have been discovered in North Olympic Peninsula emergency rooms and doctors offices.

With 52 percent of Clallam County staphyloccosus cases determined to be MRSA between January and June of this year, Locke said: "I don't have any real reason that it would be any different [in Jefferson County].

"More and more of that staph has been becoming resistant to multiple antibiotics," he added.

Preventing MRSA
Locke said preventing MRSA is simple.

"It really comes down to some basic hygiene things," the health officer said.

"Handwashing is the most important thing.

"People who develop skin infections need to have them checked out."

A patient with a MRSA wound should keep it covered and restrict activities for the time it takes the wound to heal, Locke said.

The sharing of towels in a gymnasium has the potential for transmitting the infection, he said.

Port Townsend School District Athletic Director Scott Ricardo said even though the football game was important - especially for the seniors - all agreed it was better not to take a chance of spreading the staph infection.

"All of our players are handling it pretty well, knowing safety is most important thing," Ricardo said.

Jefferson County residents having questions about MRSA should contact the county Health Department at 360-385-9400.

The phone number for Clallam County Health Services, where Clallam residents can inquire, is 360-417-2274.

Port Townsend-Jefferson County Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-385-2335 or

Last modified: November 01. 2007 9:00PM
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