Local and Community News
Los Angeles: Jails See Outbreak of Skin Infections
January 31, 2003
A painful skin infection not treatable with most common antibiotics is spreading through the Los Angeles County jail system, affecting more than 1,000 inmates in the last year and causing at least 57 hospitalizations. Federal officials believe that the outbreak of drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly called staph, is the largest of its kind in any of the nation's correctional systems.Adapted from:
For months, the Los Angeles infections were misdiagnosed as spider bites and jail officials brought in exterminators. Now sure of the staph cluster, jail doctors are using more powerful drugs to treat all skin lesions and stepping up hygiene measures. "The problem at the jail is not under control yet," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the county's public health director. More than 100 infections have been reported this month.
Staph infections are believed to be spread by skin-to-skin contact or shared personal items in the county's jails, officials said Thursday. The infection causes boils, deep skin abscesses and widespread surrounding inflammation.
Similar outbreaks of the same strain have been found in the Los Angeles area since the summer -- among gay men, members of a sports team and newborns in a hospital's nursery. According to data from the jail, 9 percent of infected inmates reported sores within five days of booking, meaning they probably came in contact with the bacteria before they were incarcerated. The jail outbreak is affecting men and women, and the patients' average age is 35.
Most of the 57 inmates hospitalized in the first eight months of 2002 had aggressive skin infections that required intravenous antibiotics or the surgical removal of tissue. Some of the infections spread into bones and blood, but no one is believed to have died, said Dr. Elizabeth Bancroft, a medical epidemiologist with the L.A. County Department of Health Services.
To control the outbreak, federal and county health authorities recommend improved access to showers and clean laundry for inmates, and jail officials said they are taking such steps. In addition, medical staff are draining abscesses and administering two antibiotics in tandem. Inmates are being told to seek help if they develop skin sores.
Los Angeles Times
01.31.03; Charles Ornstein; Jane E. Allen