University officials have confirmed three cases of Staph skin infections among third floor New South residents, with a possible fourth case that has yet to be verified.

“Staph infections are not uncommon,” Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson said at a meeting yesterday. “Over the last seven years, MRSA [methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus] has become increasingly common. We’ve had individual students with MRSA and occasional clusters.”

Olson said that the first student, Eamon O’Connor (COL ’12), contracted MRSA in mid-September and the second, whose identity could not be confirmed, became infected last week. The third student, Colin Soper (COL ’12), was confirmed with staph infection yesterday.

“The Student Health Center did a good job of quickly diagnosing it. The doctor immediately put me on antibiotics, and once I got the prescription, it started healing very fast,” said O’Connor, who contracted the infection on his forearm. “I didn’t think there was any need for them to inform the university or administration, but now that there are three . people confirmed to have had it, maybe it’s a bit more serious.”

RSA is caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, better known as “staph,” and is resistant to broad-spectrum antibiotics. It typically occurs in health care settings such as hospitals and nursing homes, although it also occurs in close-community settings such as dormitories. MRSA is a contagious infection and usually spreads through contact with an infected person or contaminated objects, according to the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is usually not spread through the air, unless the infected person has MRSA pneumonia.

Symptoms begin as small red bumps on the skin, which can turn into more painful abscesses. MRSA can be treated with special antibiotics, the CDC’s site stated.

While residents of the third floor of New South reported that almost half of the students on the floor contracted norovirus in the past week, Olson said that the recent outbreak of norovirus is unconnected to MRSA.

“They aren’t related, but they are both related to people living closely together,” Olson said. “This isn’t anything to be alarmed about.”

In an e-mail sent to New South residents last night, James Welsh, assistant vice president for student health services, informed students of the outbreak and that the Student Health Center identified a third case of MRSA.

Some residents of the floor still felt the university could have been more prompt in notifying students about the situation.

“The university didn’t even really notify us until tonight, and as far as we can tell, they’re not doing anything extra to respond to this,” Morgan Saloman (NHS ’12) said last night. “We definitely feel like it’s been overlooked, and this is frightening because MRSA is much, much more serious than the norovirus.”

Soper said it is important to keep the infections on his floor in proper perspective.

“I wouldn’t call it an outbreak. There are only three of us who have had it over the past month,” he said. “At the time of the norovirus outbreak there were only two confirmed MRSA infections in about a month – obviously 100-some very sick students need to be a bigger priority.”

Residents on the floor said that a two-page packet with information about Staph infection was distributed under students’ doors by a representative from GERMS yesterday afternoon, who came door to door with gloves.

Welsh informed residents that the infection is generally spread by skin-to-skin contact but can also be transmitted by sharing personal items including razors, towels and other items from contaminated surfaces.

“Please know that this is unrelated to the norovirus situation on campus, though many of the preventative measures are the same,” Welsh said. “Control measures include regular hand washing, covering cuts and abrasions with bandages, avoiding sharing personal items and maintaining a clean environment.”

Another resident of the third floor, Jenny Colgan (MSB ’12), said she was particularly concerned about the cleanliness of the floor.

“There are also cases of pink eye on the floor, so maybe that says something about cleanliness and hygiene,” she said. “People need to be more considerate about cleaning after themselves so the community doesn’t have to worry about these problems.”

Welsh informed students that the maintenance staff would be paying particular attention to the common area surfaces, particularly bathrooms, and the residence hall office would supply cleaner and liquid soap dispensers.

– Avni Mehta and Hoya Staff Writer Michele Hong contributed to this report.

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