Student Firefighters Contract MRSA Superbug at FDNY Academy

By Katie Honan on August 13, 2014 7:34am 

 Probationary firefighters at the Randall's Island facility, seen her in 2009, have contracted the bacterial infection known as MRSA. 
Probationary firefighters at the Randall's Island facility, seen her in 2009, have contracted the bacterial infection known as MRSA. 
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Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

RANDALL'S ISLAND — Several probationary firefighters at the FDNY Academy have contracted a serious drug-resistant bacterial infection and at least one has had to be hospitalized, according to officials.

The students from the current class, which began in July, were pulled from the academy after the first case of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, was reported last week, according to the FDNY.

At least one trainee in the class was hospitalized as a result of the infection but has since been released, according to a source.

An official with the FDNY said "less than 10" probationaries were removed and placed on medical leave, and of those "several" had confirmed cases of MRSA.

Some of the students who have been placed on medical leave did not have a confirmed diagnosis but were removed for precautionary reasons, the official said.

In the wake of the infections equipment was cleaned, but the academy was not shut down.

The FDNY was also consulting with the Department of Health on best steps to prevent the spread at the Randall's Island facility.

"We’re very concerned," said Fire Department spokesman Frank Gribbon. "We’re taking aggressive action to prevent any further occurrences."

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Equipment at the academy has been scrubbed clean and every probationary firefighter has been ordered to wear knee pads during crawling drills to prevent scrapes, an official said.

They will also be told to bring in their own exercise mats and open wounds will be given special consideration going forward, according to the official.

The students from the 300-plus trainee class who were removed for medical reasons may be forced to sit out until the next class in January if they miss too much of the aggressive 18-week program, an official said.

MRSA is usually spread by direct contact with wounds or contaminated hands or equipment and can cause pneumonia and bloodstream infections, which could be life-threatening, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The risk can increase when the infected person shares equipment or supplies and is common among athletes and those in military barracks, the CDC said.

According to a 2013 study, MRSA was listed as a serious public health threat with more than 80,000 cases and 11,000 deaths nationwide.

Still infection levels appear to be declining, according to the agency.

Incidents are tracked via two databases that the CDC maintains, but it was not clear if reporting was required in this case.

Two firefighters were treated for the infection in 2007 after contracting it at their firehouse, according to a report. 

Earlier that year, a 12-year-old Brooklyn boy died after contracting the disease.

The city's Health Department and the Uniformed Firefighters Association directed enquires to the FDNY and the CDC did not immediately comment.

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