Mohonasen High School junior Kyle Gagnon died as a result of a drug-resistant staph infection, according to a pathologist who conducted the autopsy.
Dr. Bernard Ng said the pneumonia that hospitalized the 17-year-old student last week was likely a secondary infection to the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — also known as MRSA — that caused his death. Gagnon was a varsity basketball player, and the doctor said the case was one of a few in which drug-resistant staph infections were fatal to an otherwise healthy adolescent.
“It’s very rare and very unfortunate,” Ng said Wednesday. “But it’s not completely unheard of.”
Ng said samples taken from when Gagnon was first admitted to the hospital show the infection, meaning he likely contracted it before he was admitted. He could not say how the teen contracted the bacteria, which can be present in the body without causing illness.
“A significant portion of people in the population probably harbor it and it causes no disease,” he said.
Despite Ng’s diagnosis, officials from the state Department of Health refused to attribute Gagnon’s death to the bacteria sometimes referred to as a “superbug” due to its resistance to penicillin. Spokeswoman Beth Goldburg said her agency is awaiting the pathologist’s full report and results from samples sent this week to the Wadsworth Center in Albany before making a determination.
“All indications are this case, if it is confirmed to be MRSA, is not an outbreak,” she said Wednesday. “There’s no increased MRSA risk at the school or elsewhere in Schenectady County.”
Gagnon died Saturday at the Albany Medical Center Hospital, where he was admitted after being stricken with pneumonia. The popular teen’s death sent a wave of grief throughout Mohonasen.
Officials from the neighboring Schalmont Central School District disclosed that one of their students was ill with a drug-resistant staph infection. On Tuesday, district administrators sent a letter informing parents that a student athlete at the high school had fallen ill with MRSA, but was treated with antibiotics and had received permission from a doctor to return to school.
About 95,000 serious infections and 20,000 deaths due to drug-resistant staph bacteria occur in the United States each year, according the Centers for Disease Control. Last year, a study by the center found that at least 10 percent of cases involving the most common strain were able to evade the antibiotics typically used to treat them.
Mohonasen officials learned of Gagnon’s death last weekend. Principal David Collins sent a letter home to parents Monday, explaining the situation and safety measures the school was taking.
Superintendent Kathleen Spring said custodians did additional cleaning Sunday of the high school’s locker rooms, gym and weight room. She said the district began using cleaning supplies with strong anti-bacterial agents two years ago after incidences of staph infections occurred in other Capital Region school districts.
“I don’t think it would change anything that we’re doing,” she said of the pathologist’s findings.