'Hannah Montana' star promotes importance of hand-washing

Mitchel Musso of Hannah Montana signs autographs at Trinity Elementary on Monday for Eleana Giannakopoulos, 14, and her sister, Varvara, 5, as Dr. Jonathan Perlin, president of clinical services for Hospital Corporation of America, watches.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Mitchel Musso of Hannah Montana signs autographs at Trinity Elementary on Monday for Eleana Giannakopoulos, 14, and her sister, Varvara, 5, as Dr. Jonathan Perlin, president of clinical services for Hospital Corporation of America, watches.

TRINITY — The teacher said there was supposed to be a special guest, but 7-year-old Saomy Sabournin had no idea just who all the fuss was for.

Neither did her classmate, Jacob Neary, who wondered why all those news people with cameras were hanging around.

The giant poster of a mop-haired Disney teen star promoting good hand-washing practices should have given the two a hint.

"That's Mitchel Musso. He plays Oliver on Hannah Montana. I watch it all the time," Saomy said, as the rest of the 657 students from Trinity Elementary filed into the cafeteria and started filling the empty space behind her.

So, evidently, does Jacob, 7. "My sister makes me," he said, noting that he preferred watching The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.

Star power

Even so, Jacob and Saomy were both gape-mouthed and starstruck when the Disney Channel star, wearing a blue and pink Billabong shirt, white jeans and sneakers, made a surprise grand entrance Monday into their cafeteria to the sound of cheering fans.

The occasion?

HCA Foundation's national kickoff of the "Clean Hands are Cool Hands" campaign and a new 30-second public service announcement that will debut on TV stations later this month. Musso, 17, who stars in the PSA, is the spokesperson for the campaign, targeting kids in grades K-5, to help prevent the spread of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, common and highly contagious bacteria that frequently inhabit a person's skin or nostrils.

Trinity is the first stop on a tour that will take Musso to Nashville, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

So why start at Trinity Elementary?

"The luck of the draw, I think. Or maybe it was the proximity to the new medical center HCA is building just up the road," said Trinity principal Kathryn Rushe, who has seen plenty of Hannah Montana backpacks around the school, but admitted to brushing up on Mitchel Musso by watching the show for the very first time last week.

School, where kids are passing plenty of germs along with those pencils and pens, is an ideal place to start a health education campaign to prevent the spread of a sometimes-fatal bacterium that has become resistant to common antibiotics.

Until recently, the main push for education and prevention has been in health care facilities and nursing homes, where the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are most at risk for staph infections.

But studies show that more community-based cases are showing up in healthy people these days.

Musso told the Trinity students it's important to use soap and water or antibacterial gel at various points throughout the day: before eating or after sneezing, shaking someone's hand or using the bathroom.

And while surgeons scrub their hands and arms for eight to 10 minutes before heading into the operating room, everyone else can get sufficient suds by washing in the time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song twice.

"We want hand-washing to be second nature to this generation, just like (wearing) seat belts. It's not an option — you just do it," said Kathy Gillette, chief executive officer of Community Hospital and Trinity Medical Center. "Getting to the children is the reason HCA got involved. And having someone from the Hannah Montana show — my God, it doesn't get any bigger than that."

Michele Miller can be reached at (727) 869-6251 or by e-mail at miller@sptimes.com.

>>Fast Facts

Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus

• MRSA accounts for 19,000 deaths in the United States each year. About 86 percent happen in health care settings, while 14 percent are contracted somewhere in the community.

• Staph bacteria, including MRSA, can cause skin infections that may look like a pimple or boil and can be red, swollen, painful or have pus or other drainage. More serious infections may cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections or surgical wound infections.

How to prevent staph infections and MRSA

• Keep your hands clean by washing thoroughly with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

• Keep cuts and scrapes clean and covered with a bandage until healed.

• Avoid contact with other people's wounds or bandages.

• Avoid sharing personal items such as towels or razors.

For information about HCA's campaign, go to www.cleanhandsarecoolhands.com.

'Hannah Montana' star promotes importance of hand-washing 08/25/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 26, 2008 7:33pm]

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