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Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Press Release # N20-07
Friday, October 26, 2007

Contact:
David Cantor, DOE (212) 374-5141
Sara Markt, DOHMH (212)788-5290
John Collins, Office of Public Advocate (212) 669-4193


HEALTH COMMISSIONER FRIEDEN, CHANCELLOR KLEIN, AND PUBLIC ADVOCATE GOTBAUM URGE STUDENTS AND FAMILIES TO TAKE STEPS TO STAY HEALTHY

** Updated October 31, 2007 **

Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, and Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum today urged students, families, and educators to wash their hands thoroughly and frequently, since hand-washing can prevent the spread of many infections, including Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a microbe that is resistant to some common antibiotics.

Today’s announcement follows the tragic death of a student at IS 211 in Brooklyn who was infected with MRSA. There is no indication that any other students are at risk.

“Staph is both preventable and treatable,” Dr. Frieden said. “The best way to avoid infections is to wash hands thoroughly and avoid sharing personal items such as towels and razors. We are working with the school system to distribute informational materials so that everyone is aware of the disease and knows how to prevent it.”

“It’s a tragedy that one of our students died of this infection,” Chancellor Klein said. “It reminds us how important it is to wash our hands with soap and water, keep clean, and visit the doctor if we are at all concerned about our health. We are working with principals, school custodians, and parents to reduce the chances of further infection. I urge everyone to be vigilant and to keep healthy.”

“It's a fact of life that kids can forget to wash their hands and scrape their knees on the playground,” Public Advocate Gotbaum said. “But parents and school officials can be super heroes in the fight against the bug simply by reminding their children to wash their hands and cover cuts. Together, New Yorkers can take the basic steps to protect children and help prevent future tragedies.”

The Department of Education (DOE) and the Health Department have distributed materials to schools highlighting strategies that will help educators and students stay healthy and prevent the spread of MRSA. DOE sent custodians a notice this week emphasizing the importance of keeping plenty of soap available to students. DOE also urged custodians to notify school officials and nurses if they have any concerns about sanitation in schools.

MRSA spreads by direct skin-to-skin contact. Less often, it can be spread by contact with items such as towels or sports equipment that have come into contact with infected skin. The microbe, which is common on skin surfaces, normally causes only lesions that will heal without treatment. A Staph infection may look like a pimple or boil on the skin. The lesion may be red, swollen, painful, or have pus. In more serious cases, the infection may cause difficulty breathing, fever and excessive tiredness. If a child develops these symptoms, a parent should contact a doctor. Though MRSA is becoming more common, fatal cases in children are extremely rare. 

The DOE and DOHMH released the following recommendations for minimizing the spread of communicable infections such as MRSA:

  • Students, educators, and others should wash their hands regularly with soap and water.

  • Schools must ensure that sufficient soap and paper towels are available in all bathrooms.

  • Students should not share towels or other similar personal items during sports or other activities. They should also wipe down shared athletic equipment between users. 

If parents have any questions or concerns, they should call their principals, parent coordinators, or 311. Additional information can be found at:  http://schools.nyc.gov/Offices/DYD/Health/default.htm.