After 14-year-old Mckenna Hatchett injured her hip at soccer practice last week, she went to the school trainer and later to her pediatrician.
By Saturday, the George Rogers Clark freshman was in so much pain that her parents took her to the Central Baptist Hospital emergency room.
Doctors there thought she might have pulled a groin muscle, family members said. They sent her home and told her to see an orthopedist.
By Tuesday, Mckenna was worse. She wasn't responding normally. Her parents took her to the University of Kentucky emergency room, where the possibility of a staph infection was first mentioned. But within a few hours, Mckenna was dead.
Before the injury, Mckenna was healthy, said her aunt, Donna Leedy. "That's why we're all struggling so much."
Mckenna's parents "can't even put one foot in front of the other right now," she said.
Representatives from Central Baptist and UK hospitals declined to comment on the case, citing patient confidentiality.
Just two days after Mckenna's death, Jessamine County schools reported two cases of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. The superintendent sent letters home to parents Thursday. Both cases have been confirmed by physicians, according to the letters.
One case involved an East Jessamine High student, and the other involved an East Jessamine Middle School student. One of the students has since returned to class, Assistant Superintendent Owens Saylor said. He did not know which student.
Superintendent Lu S. Young's letter says, "In accordance with Jessamine County School District protocol, any student(s) or staff confirmed to have MRSA will be permitted to return to school only if they have been cleared to do so, in writing, by their physician."
Extra custodians were sent to both schools Wednesday night to be sure the buildings were thoroughly cleaned, the letter says.
School did not need to be closed to "disinfect" because "routine cleaning with an EPA-registered solution is effective at removing MRSA from the environment."
There's no indication that the Jessamine and Clark cases are related.
At George Rogers Clark, all surfaces were wiped with an antibacterial cleaning agent, said Superintendent Ed Musgrove.
Musgrove said Mckenna's staph infection was blood-borne.
Leedy said the family does not yet know what caused Mckenna's staph infection or whether it was MRSA.
Staph infections most commonly present as a skin infection that looks like a spider bite or a pimple. Most of these are not serious and can be treated without antibiotics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But staph can also cause more serious infections. Some people have gotten infections in their bones, and there have been cases of infected muscles that don't show any outward sign of a wound, said Ruth Carrico, an infection prevention specialist at the School of Public Health and Information Sciences at the University of Louisville.
Staph infections aren't uncommon among athletes, Carrico said.
A turf burn or a place where equipment rubs can provide an opportunity for bacteria.
The bacteria that cause staph infections live on the skin and in the nose. The infections begin when the bacteria find a way past the body's defenses, through a cut or a scrape or more natural openings such as the lungs.
The infections are most commonly transmitted in the health care setting — hospitals, outpatient treatment and surgical centers. But they also spread in other places such as jails and schools, where close quarters and a lack of hand washing help them thrive.
Most of the time, infections can be treated with antibiotics, or the body itself fights the infection.
There are several strains of staph, and certain strains are aggressive. Some are harder to treat because they are resistant to commonly used antibiotics, as MRSA is.
Misdiagnosed or left untreated, the infections can lead to death, Carrico said.
The best defense is to use common-sense hygiene measures: showering and changing clothes after practices and games and washing uniforms and equipment regularly.
Athletes shouldn't share towels, razors or other personal equipment. If they get a cut or a scrape, they should show it to a coach or a trainer, clean it and keep it covered, she said. If it becomes red or begins to hurt, they might need further treatment.
"We really stress routine personal hygiene," Carrico said.