Students in two more school systems in the Baltimore area have been diagnosed with a form of staph infection that is resistant to antibiotics, school officials confirmed yesterday.
Two students in Baltimore County and one in Harford County have been treated for skin infections caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA, school officials said. And a Dundalk middle school sent letters yesterday alerting parents that three students were being treated for skin infections. It is not known whether those cases are staph.
Parents of students at Prospect Mill Elementary School in Bel Air were notified about the situation in a letter sent home Monday.
Don Morrison, a Harford schools spokesman, said school officials do not know precisely when the child was diagnosed but that it occurred "some time ago; it's not in the recent week or two."
MRSA is a potentially lethal bacterium that has developed resistance to antibiotics such as penicillin, amoxicillin and oxacillin and is believed to cause up to 19,000 deaths a year nationwide.
Morrison sought to reassure parents, saying there is no cause for alarm because it was an isolated case.
"There is no outbreak," Morrison said. "There is no MRSA at a particular school. We're talking about a student who attends a particular school, who had the infection. There is no evidence or indication that the student picked up the infection at the school."
Classes at Prospect Mill have continued as usual all week, Morrison said. Yesterday, the school reported a 7 percent absentee rate, slightly higher than the 5 percent average.
Benita Berg of Bel Air said she kept her son home from school yesterday after receiving the letter. "I wanted to educate myself more on MRSA and how it's contracted," she said.
In Baltimore County, officials said they do not know what schools the students with the confirmed cases of MRSA attend.
The principal at General John Stricker Middle, where the other three cases of skin infection were reported, wrote in a letter to parents that the desks, chairs and cafeteria tables would be disinfected last night. A fact sheet about skin infections accompanied the letter.
"We want parents to be aware and informed but not alarmed," said Kara Calder, spokeswoman for Baltimore County schools. "We don't have any reason to believe we have an infectious environment."
People commonly carry the staph bacteria on their skin or in their noses without developing symptoms. Infection develops when the bacteria enter cuts, scrapes or breaks in the skin.
"In general, staph MRSA is ubiquitous," said Dr. Andrew Bernstein, Harford health officer. "It's found everywhere. It's not just in schools; it's in the community."
Preventive measures include thoroughly cleaning cuts and washing hands with soap or an alcohol-based sanitizer.
Other school systems in Maryland have reported staph infections among students recently.
Anne Arundel County reported more than 50 cases, including one MRSA case, at several high schools. Last week, Howard County school officials sent a letter home to parents after a second staph case was reported at Wilde Lake High.
Sun reporter Gina Davis contributed to this article.