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Drug-Resistant Staph Infection Hits Three at NM High School

John Coletti/Getty Images(BELEN, N.M.) -- Three students have been sickened with the antibiotic-resistant infection MRSA and 12 others tested positive for the bacterium at Belen High School in New Mexico.

School officials have vigorously disinfected the wrestling and weight rooms up to 40 times since the confirmed case was reported last week, but say they could have done more to warn parents about the rare but dangerous bacteria.

"It's been cleaned and cleaned and cleaned and cleaned," Belen Athletic Coordinator Rodney Wright told ABC affiliate KOAT.

"As of yesterday morning, we had two more cases that were confirmed," he said. The infections have mostly affected wrestlers and cheerleaders, who share the same facilities.

Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics such as methicillin and its pharmaceutical relatives, oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin. In the community-acquired virus, the infections appear on the skin, but can be life-threatening if not treated properly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An estimated 3 to 6 percent of the population carries the community form of MRSA, according to Dr. Silvania Ng, an infectious disease specialist and medical director of infection control at Bethesda Hospital in Cincinnati.

"It is very aggressive in the skin and [can] go to the lungs, especially in kids and can cause necrotizing pneumonia," Ng said. "If there is not drainage quickly, it can spread through the body."

Typically, MRSA is seen more in adults, but it spreads more quickly in children, who can quickly go from experiencing skin abscess to being on a lung respirator, she said. Several died when the disease was first recognized in the late 1990s.

The bacterium is carried in the mucosa of the nose, armpits or groin and spreads with close contact. Wright said the school sent home letters to parents of every winter athlete, reporting they had at least a staph infection (but not necessarily MRSA).

Not every parent received the notification. "Probably, in hindsight, I will tell you that's probably something we could have done district-wide," Wright said.

MRSA infections can occur in any geographic location and anywhere on a person's body, according to the CDC. It was first reported in 1997 when most cases were hospital-borne infections among patients with weakened immune systems.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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