Central Valley

Doctors will have to report severe staph under new state requirements

Starting today, severe cases of staph infections, including those resistant to common antibiotics, will have to be reported to local health departments in California.

That means health-care providers are now required to report fatal staph infections in previously healthy people or infections that lead to treatment in a hospital intensive care unit, state Department of Public Health officials announced.

The state’s top health officials are concerned about recent reports of severe methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections that people are picking up in the community, said Gilberto Chavez, an epidemiologist and a deputy director of the agency.

In late 2007, a number of schools in Stanislaus County informed parents of MRSA infections among students. One case was a 12-year-old student of Somerset Middle School in Modesto who nearly died from a severe infection.

With the new requirement, information on severe cases must be reported to the local health department, including the age, gender and race of the individuals and the circumstances of contracting the infection.

“Gaining a better picture of the incidence of severe cases of staph infections in California will enable us to develop more robust prevention and control strategies,” said Dr. Mark Horton, director of the state Department of Public Health.

MRSA skin infections most commonly occur in places where people are in close contact, such as locker rooms or dormitory rooms. The bacteria, which live in the nose or on the skin of 30 percent of the population, causes boils and abscesses on the skin that often are easily treated. In some cases, the infections spread into the blood, attacking vital organs and threatening the life of the individual.

The new reporting policy doesn’t apply to superficial infections or patients who contract staph infections in hospitals or nursing homes, officials said. Most of the responsibility for reporting severe cases will fall on infectious disease nurses at hospitals with intensive care units, said Dr. John Walker, public health officer for Stanislaus County.