NEW YORK – School officials urged parents to report any signs of antibiotic-resistant staph infections after a middle-school student apparently died of the "superbug."
But city health officials said there was "no reason to believe that other children or school employees are at increased risk," saying deadly staph infections were unusual outside health care settings.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, or MRSA, have gained attention since a government report this month found more than 90,000 Americans get potentially deadly staph infections each year.
The bacteria can be carried by healthy people, living on their skin or in their noses. Most drug-resistant staph cases are mild skin infections, but severe infections can enter the bloodstream or destroy flesh and become deadly.
The bacteria don't respond to penicillin-related antibiotics once commonly used to treat them, partly because of overuse. They can be treated with other drugs.
The disease has been blamed for the death of a 17-year-old Virginia high school senior this month. At least seven students on Long Island have recently been diagnosed with MRSA, as were 10 members of an athletic team at Iona College in New Rochelle.
The city Health Department said Thursday that MRSA likely killed a student at Intermediate School 211 in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, where an electronic marquee read: "Our hearts go out to our young angel!"
The agency nor the school identified the student but media reports said neighbors and his classmates identified him as Omar Rivera.
Student Andrew McKenzie, 13, said Rivera had shown him sores on his legs and back two weeks ago.
"I didn't know what to do, so I just sent him to the nurse," Andrew said. "From then, I never saw him again."
The school remained open, but Principal Buffie Simmons-Peart urged parents in a letter to tell the school about "any diagnosed or suspected infectious condition" and to talk to their children about good hygiene.
The director of surveillance for the city Health Department's Bureau of Communicable Disease said the risk of other students contracting the infection from a computer keyboard or table, for example, was "extremely low." The director, Dr. Don Weiss, said the case of the student who died may have been complicated by other factors so far unknown.
The Health Department has proposed mandatory reporting of the illness, so the agency can track the number of cases. Meanwhile, state officials have issued instructions for schools and New Yorkers on how to deal with the infection.