Nov. 7, 2007 -- When it comes to MRSA and other drug-resistant infections, the best defense is basic hygiene.
That's the message state and federal health officials brought to Capitol Hill Wednesday. Officials say they want to do more to improve tracking and reporting of infections like MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. The infection sparked a barrage of media attention -- and set off concerns among parents -- after school-based outbreaks last month.
MRSA can be dangerous because conventional antibiotics aren't effective.
'Back to Basics'
Frequent hand washing is the best way to avoid most MRSA skin infections if there's an outbreak in your area, said Julie Gerberding, MD, director of the CDC.
"The common sense, back-to-basics are the way to manage the threat," she told a House panel.
In addition to hand washing, that means avoiding the sharing of towels or clothes. Skin wounds should remain clean and well covered, and any wounds that change rapidly or look "angry" should get immediate medical attention.
Students involved in sports or other activities should avoid sharing equipment that comes in close skin contact if the school has experienced MRSA cases, officials said.
"There are the same issues around hygiene and hand washing and wound care in our households that we are concerned about in the schools," Gerberding said.
Calls for Better Reporting of Outbreaks
Still, several local and state officials urged the government to do more to monitor and respond to outbreaks.
Twenty-two schools closed in southern Virginia's Bedford County after a student died from an apparent MRSA infection. Twenty-one students in Prince William County in the northern part of the state were also diagnosed, though none died and no schools were closed.
James Burns, MD, Virginia's deputy health commissioner, told lawmakers that state officials were not able to get all the information they needed about MRSA because the state is one of 27 without mandatory reporting.
"Among the most frequently asked questions by the public and media was how many MRSA cases occur each year. MRSA was not a reportable disease and we could not answer that question," he said.
Gerberding told lawmakers that the agency is stepping up its electronic surveillance of infectious diseases. But the process is slow as hospitals and doctors offices gradually switch over to electronic medical records.
School officials also said they want more help from federal and state health officials when they have to communicate with the public about complex medical issues like MRSA.
"We need to get answers so that we're able to provide something other than 'it's common sense' when so much is at stake," Gerberding said.