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7th-grader's death sparks parents' superbug concerns

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Brooklyn student's death from drug-resistant staph infection confirmed
  • NEW: School officials unable to confirm where student contracted infection
  • No reason to think other students or teachers are at risk, department says
  • 25 to 30 percent of the population carry the staph bacteria, according to CDC
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The death of a 12-year-old student in Brooklyn from the staph infection MRSA has prompted fear among parents and students throughout the New York City school system, forcing officials to respond.

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Omar Rivera, 12, a New York seventh-grader, died of drug-resistant staph on October 14.

Omar Rivera, a seventh-grader at Intermediate School 211, died October 14 from the infection, according to the New York City school superintendent, but investigators were unable to confirm where he contracted the infection.

MRSA is short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and is responsible for more deaths in the United States each year than AIDS, according to new data.

"There's often no way to know how an individual person got the infection," said New York City Health Commissioner Tom Frieden. "An infection in a child like this is extremely rare. Fatal infections in children is in the order of 1 in a million. It's a terrible tragedy and our hearts go out to the family."

The Office of School Health sent letters to parents Thursday, notifying them of Rivera's death. Despite assurances from health officials that Rivera's death was an isolated incident, several parents decided to keep their children out of IS 211, which opened at its normal time Friday after the disclosure of Rivera's death Thursday, as it has every day since the death.Video Watch more on the student's death »

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The Heath Department said in its statement, "We have no reason to believe that other children or school employees are at increased risk of staph infection." But department officials advised in a press conference Friday that people should limit skin-to-skin contact, wash their hands regularly and not share items such as towels and razors.

Nearly nine out of every 10 resistant staph infections are hospital or health-care related, Frieden said.

"Hospitals are taking it seriously and need to continue to improve the way they prevent and treat staph infections," he said.

According to the CDC, 25 to 30 percent of the population carry the staph bacteria -- one of the most common causes of infection. While such infections are typically minor, invasive MRSA infections, because they are caused by drug-resistant staph, can become fatal.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, the director of the CDC, says these infections are not new. "It's important to appreciate that many of these infections are the same infections moms have been dealing with for decades. They're very preventable," she says.

"If you see a skin infection that looks like the redness is getting bigger or if it's associated with a lot of swelling around the wound or if the individual has a fever, those are reasons to definitely seek doctor's attention. But most of the time these are things that can be treated with the same kind of common sense approach that is we've been using for years."

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Pat Mshar, an epidemiologist for Connecticut's Department of Health, emphasized that the highest rate of MRSA deaths -- 58 percent -- is found in hospitals.

"The healthy person in the community -- like the high school student -- generally is going to be able to be treated adequately without adverse outcome," she said. So long as an infected student seeks treatment, covers open cuts or lesions and avoids direct skin contact with other students, "it's OK to go to school."

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She noted that recent reports of MRSA numbers and the student deaths has heightened concern. "Parents are more aware of MRSA now than they ever were before," she said.

For more information, see MayoClinic.com's Q&A on MRSA,Centers for Disease Control's Invasive MRSA Fact Sheet, its advice on MRSA in schools and the Journal of the American Medical Association's Patient Page on MRSA.. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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