The diagnosis of two students this week with an antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria shows Bowdoin is not immune to the skin infection that is becoming increasingly common on college campuses.
College Physician and Director of Health Services Dr. Jeff Benson said the two cases at Bowdoin were "completely unrelated," but he and others familiar with the situation would not provide specific information on the students, citing health privacy laws.
The two students were diagnosed with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). According to Benson, "more than 90% of the time it's describable as just an irritation," which was the case with the two students. However, in more extreme cases, staph bacteria can cause serious complications, such as bloodstream infections and pneumonia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) web site.
The diagnosis of the first student with the infection, a member of the football team, led to the closing of several athletic facilities for cleaning, including part of Farley Field House for half a day and the Morrell Gymnasium weight room from August 31 to September 5.
The reason for the closures was not posted, because "we were trying not to spread panic," said Director of Athletics Jeff Ward. "It's really possible for people to overreact in situations like this."
"Every place he'd been we had a cleaning service come in and disinfect," said Ward. The team members' rooms have been cleaned, all fall athletes' uniforms were washed, football pads were sent out to a special cleaning facility and all footballs were thrown away, he added.
Ward said no other members of the team have been diagnosed, but the team will continue to be monitored.
"One of the things you have to do in athletics is be adaptable," he said. "We worked really hard to make this have as little consequence as possible, and I think we've done that. It's more of a nuisance than a danger."
Football captain Brendan Murphy '07 said besides missing one practice and some players moving to different rooms, there have been few disruptions to the team.
"It was something that occurred and was handled properly by everyone at the college," he said. "The way that everyone from [Residential Life] to the athletic department handled this has made it easy for us to focus again on football."
Benson said the second case was "completely random" and "would never have detected if we weren't being super vigilant with the first case."
"The big problem with this is that there's a carrier state where you're showing no signs of carrying the bacteria, but you can spread it and keep it alive like that," said Benson, who explained that while 25 to 30 percent of the population carries some kind of staph, only 1 percent have MRSA. "It's very difficult to eradicate in that [carrier] state."
According to the CDC, while staph and MRSA occur most frequently in hospitals and healthcare facilities, the infection has become more common "in the community setting," such as at colleges and high schools. The University of New Hampshire had an outbreak on their football team in 2004 and local Brunswick High School had a wave of the infection in 2003, with the first known cases in the school's football players, according to the high school's newsletter.
"It's out there," said Head Athletic Trainer Dan Davies, who said the growing trend of the use of antibiotics has led to a bacterial resistance to them.
Benson said MRSA is common with athletes because of "close skin-to-skin contact and the constant minor traumas to the skin."
According to Benson, information on staph will be included in a personal hygiene and wellness campaign by the health center and Residential Life.
Murphy said the team has already become more careful.
"Overall we are just more cautious than we have been in the past and we are more aware of infection and the signs so if anything does spring up, we know to report it to our trainer and let him take the proper steps," he said.