Section: archive

Staph infections hit campus

By Gabe Brison-Trezise

In response to a series of staphylococcus (staph) infections likely transmitted at the Kenyon Athletic Center (KAC), the College’s Maintenance Department sanitized and disinfected the building’s weight room and several locker rooms on Thursday and Friday last week.

“What happened last Wednesday is we received a report from our athletic trainers as well as the Health Center that there were five individuals over the past two and a half weeks that contracted a staph infection,” Director of the KAC and Assistant Athletic Director Justin Newell said. One of the cases, he added, was a Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection, a rare form of staph that’s highly resistant to antibiotic treatments.

Kim Cullers, director of Health Services, wrote in an email that 25-30 percent of adults carry staph but that it’s generally harmless: “In the majority of cases, the bacteria do not cause disease. However, damage to the skin or other injury may allow the bacteria to overcome the natural protective mechanisms of the body, leading to infection.” She added, “Staph is frequently passed among athletes and on athletic equipment, towels, surfaces, etc.”

“The individuals who said that they had contracted the virus had listed the KAC as a place that they had been frequently, the training room as well as the weight room,” Newell said, adding, “All of [the cases] were under control and no longer contagious at that point but ultimately we made the decision that we had to go through kind of just a general cleaning.”

Maintenance used a product called Virex to disinfect the locker rooms, according to Director of Facility Operations Greg Widener. Virex, which is used in hospitals and other sensitive environments, kills “microorganisms, especially bacterial spores,” Widener said. In the KAC, he added, “[It] would have been used on floors, benches, handles of faucets, sinks, porcelain, toilets, anything and everything.”

In the weight room, Maintenance applied a sanitizing agent, which, unlike Virex, does not take time to dry. “Someone’s always there,” Widener said of the weight room, so “you don’t have the ability to have that wait time where you can spray something on and let it dry.”

The KAC experienced a similar, but larger, string of infections two years ago, according to Newell. “It’s fairly common in a large athletic venue for there to be the occasional ラ I try not to use the term outbreak; it’s not an outbreak ラ where a series of individuals will contract the virus,” he said. “There’s only so much we can do as far as the building goes.”

After noting the individuals who had developed staph infections had all used the KAC during the same timeframe, the Health Center notified Newell and sparked last week’s round of cleaning. “If we start to see a pattern among students (for example, within a certain sport, or among students lifting weights or using the mats) we notify the Athletic Department and ask them to do a thorough cleaning,” Cullers wrote.

Widener described the cleaning efforts as more thorough than Maintenance’s usual procedure, saying, “When they do this extra cleaning they make sure every surface is touched and disinfected or sanitized. We go beyond, make sure we’re basically getting everything, so it’s a little extra effort.” Maintenance also asked custodians in residential buildings to thoroughly sanitize items like door handles.

“Those same students who are traveling to the KAC are going back to their residential space, so that whole custodial team was asked to do a little extra, pay attention to the detail more so than they normally do,” Widener said.

Four employees each spent five hours across Thursday and Friday administering the cleaning, though Widener acknowledged that the bacteria “can reappear. You’re never going to totally eliminate them.” He added, “It’s reduction of that risk, that potential. That’s what it comes down to.”

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