MRSA Superbug Cases Found in Previous Fire Academy Class, FDNY Says

By Katie Honan on August 18, 2014 7:52am 

 The previous fire academy class, which graduated in June, had three trainees out on leave for the infection. 
The previous fire academy class, which graduated in June, had three trainees out on leave for the infection. 
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

RANDALL'S ISLAND — As the number of probationary firefighters possibly infected with the drug-resistant superbug MRSA jumped to 12, the FDNY revealed three other trainees had picked up the germ in the Fire Academy earlier this year.

The news came as it was revealed that the Fire Department only told the Health Department about the latest incidents after discovering more than just a couple of cases, FDNY officials said.

Three student firefighters were removed from the January class and placed on light duty at some point this year after being infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, according to FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer.

He wasn't clear how long they were out of the academy or when it happened, but none of the firefighters were hospitalized, he said. The academy was not closed and the Health Department was not notified in that case.

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It was not clear if it was mandatory to notify the Health Department. More than 280 firefighters graduated from that class in June. 

The current MRSA outbreak was first reported Wednesday by DNAinfo New York. Since then the number of trainees placed on modified duty has since risen from nine to 12, Dwyer said.

"Out of 321, [there were] 12 total who either had a MRSA infection or showed signs for one," he said.

Half of those placed on modified duty had confirmed cases of the bacteria and the others showed symptoms, he said.

One trainee was hospitalized but has been released, the FDNY said. 

The Department of Health was told about the infections on Tuesday, days after they were discovered last week, according to the department.

"At the FDNY’s request, we visited the site Thursday morning and provided guidance on infection control measures," a spokeswoman with the DOH said.

But when asked about the MRSA infections at a press conference on Wednesday, neither Mayor Bill de Blasio nor Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said they were aware of the incident.

"I'm afraid that I am not aware of this report yet," Bassett said at a press conference, video of which was used in a WABC report on the outbreak.

The fire department said it had been handling the incident on its own and only notified the DOH when it found more than a couple of cases in the class.

"We were already taking steps last week to deal with this, from cleaning and disinfecting equipment to checking our members with open wounds," Dwyer said.

Equipment, which was already cleaned regularly, was disinfected and probies are now required to wear knee pads during certain training exercises, the department said.

"We had one of our nurses go up there and check everyone one of our probies for any open wounds and to test it," Dwyer added. 

MRSA is usually spread by direct contact with wounds or contaminated hands or equipment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The risk can increase when someone infected with it shares equipment or supplies and it's common among athletes and other people sharing small spaces, the CDC said.

It can cause pneumonia and bloodstream infections, which could be life threatening.

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