Jail guards union warns about bacterial outbreak
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The union representing guards at the Allegheny County Jail believes an outbreak of a dangerous bacteria at the facility has caused three correctional officers' severe infections and the emergency room treatment of a fourth.
At a news conference yesterday, Michael Ducker, the union's recording secretary, said he is afraid there is an outbreak of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA, a dangerous bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics normally used to treat staph infections.
He said two of the officers have had their tests come back positive for MRSA; the other two are still awaiting results. In the past 18 months he said 20 officers have had staph infections, 10 of them suffering from the more dangerous MRSA.
Mr. Ducker said the union has tried to get the jail administration to take the steps necessary to clean up the jail.
Warden Ramon Rustin said the workers can't know they are getting MRSA infections at the jail and could have contracted the infection elsewhere. But, he said, if they can prove it came from their employment, they are eligible for workers' compensation.
Mr. Ducker said the jail administration will not let guards know if they have supervised an inmate with MRSA.
Dr. Robert Muder, the chief of infectious diseases at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Pittsburgh, which has taken a leadership role in cleaning up hospital-acquired MRSA, said the variety at the jail is most likely what is known as community-acquired MRSA. That variety tends to be passed through skin-to-skin contact . Two female inmates died last year from the infection.
The percentage of infected inmates in the Allegheny County Jail is much lower than in other correctional facilities, according to Dr. Bruce Dixon, director of the Allegheny County Health Department. He estimated an infection rate of 3 percent based on testing of in-coming inmates. At other facilities, he said, infection rates are about 30 percent.
Mr. Ducker said the administration cites privacy laws as the reason guards are not told which inmates have the infection. Dr. Muder said "that may be a very bad idea."
Guards should be trained to help identify inmates with MRSA, Dr. Muder said, and when there are suspected cases, their clothing and linens should be disinfected.
First Published September 18, 2007 12:00 am