Local students and school districts are getting an education in MRSA, as in methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus.

MRSA (pronounced meer-sa) is a type of staph bacteria that's resistant to some antibiotics. MRSA infections used to be seen primarily in patients who had been hospitalized, but in recent years, doctors are seeing more cases in the community, in otherwise healthy individuals.

In recent months, there have been cases of MRSA reported in several local schools, from the elementary level to high school, in communities including Belleville, Troy, Northville, Ecorse and Mount Clemens.

While MRSA infections can be serious, doctors say there's no need to panic. But they do want parents and doctors to be on the lookout for MRSA infections.

"What people will initially report can be mistaken as a spider bite. A lot of times these things will start out as a little boil," said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, an infectious disease expert at St. John Hospital.

Bagdasarian said most of the MRSA infections seen in schools are a skin infection.

"We know these types of staph aureus can be passed by skin to skin contact, and also from contaminated surfaces," said Bagdasarian.

To reduce the risk of MRSA in schools, the CDC recommends regular cleaning, with special attention focused on surfaces that touch bare skin, such as locker room benches or shared sports equipment.

"Athletes can be at risk for contracting MRSA infections from each other, especially if they are sharing gym equipment," said Bagdasarian.

Parents should make sure students are covering cuts or other open wounds, and encourage children to wash their hands or use hand sanitizer often. It's also important to remind students not to share towels or other personal items.

Parents should pay attention to their child's skin. MRSA skin infections generally start as small red bumps that resemble pimples, boils or spider bites. If those lesions don't get better quickly or look infected, see a doctor right away.

"These infections are on the rise, and they can be serious," said Bagdasarian. "But I think if you take some really common sense approaches to preventing infection, it can prevent the spread of things like MRSA as well as other things that are really prevalent around this time of year."

To learn more about MRSA, click here.