Staph infection cause of boy's death, [New York] city health officials say

Omar Rivera Jr.'s death on Oct. 14 was likely caused by the superbug MRSA, city said. The seventh-grader had not been at IS211 since start of month.

Omar Rivera Jr.'s death on Oct. 14 was likely caused by the superbug MRSA, city said. The seventh-grader had not been at IS211 since start of month.

City health officials are blaming the tragic death of a Brooklyn boy last week on the drug-resistant superbug that has raised fears across the country.

The seventh-grader, identified by neighbors and students as Omar Rivera Jr., succumbed Oct. 14.

"This child died of a staph infection, particularly a resistant staph infection called MRSA," said Dr. Don Weiss of the city Health Department.

MRSA - short for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus - is a staph bacterium that can't be controlled by basic antibiotics. A recent report contends nearly 20,000 people nationwide have been killed by the superbug in one year.

Intermediate School 211 in Canarsie was informed last week about the boy's death and asked the city Health Department to investigate, officials said. Blood tests confirmed the child was infected with the superbug.

City officials sent a letter home with IS 211 students yesterday, notifying parents that a student there had contracted the staph infection. But the letter cautioned parents not to panic.

"At this time, the Health Department does not believe that other children are at increased risk for the infection," the letter reads.

Medical staff were available at the school to answer parents' questions yesterday, and janitors have scrubbed down the building as a precaution.

Although the boy who died hadn't been in school since early in the month, one friend said Omar had shown him the boil-like lesions on his skin in class.

"He showed me the stuff on his back," said Andrew McKenzie, 13. "I didn't know what to do, so I told him to go to the nurse, and then I never saw him again."

According to literature distributed at his funeral, Omar was born in Miami but lived in New York City most of his life. He was a joker and gifted reader who liked basketball and video games.

"I was very sad. He was my friend," said Michael Elmore, 13. "They called us in today and told us to wash our hands frequently."

Added 14-year-old Kimberly Jenkins, "When I walk in the hallway, it doesn't feel right anymore."

Typical staph is rampant and lives unnoticed on most people's skin. If it enters the body through a cut or scrape, a person might notice a small sore or pimple. Usually, the body's immune system or a penicillin-type drug will nip the infection in the bud.

MRSA infections don't respond to those antibiotics, which is what worries health officials and makes the bacteria potentially deadly.

Some Brooklyn parents were alarmed to receive a letter from the school about the superbug.

"I would have preferred if they told me immediately," said Troy Lee, 38, the father of an eighth-grader. "You probably could have stopped a lot of fear if you called the parents in instead of sending home a letter."

Barbara Brown, 54, was nervous about sending her niece back to the school.

"I just hope they get to the source of it," she said. "As a parent, it makes you kind of edgy."

Health officials said it's not possible to know where the boy contracted the infection, and they would not release his name.

It could be weeks before the medical examiner's office releases the exact cause of death.

Earlier this month, a high school student from Virginia was killed by an MRSA infection. At least seven Long Island students have been diagnosed recently with infections related to the superbug, and Iona College also suffered an outbreak. Omar appears to be the first MRSA death in the city.

Officials stressed that staph infections are rarely fatal in children and only spread through direct skin-to-skin contact or by sharing items like towels or razors. Any wounds should be covered with bandages.

"It is not necessary to keep the student out of school or to close school," the city Health Department said in a statement.

An electric sign on IS 211 read: "Our hearts go out to our young angel."


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