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Illinois Prison Officials Fail to Report MRSA Infections

Recognizing that Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) is rampant in Illinois’ prison system, and that MRSA poses a threat to guards and visitors as well as prisoners, Illinois legislators enacted a law, effective March 3, 2008, that requires prison officials to report MRSA outbreaks to state and local health authorities. Prison officials, however, have failed to file most of the required reports.

An August 2009 article in the Belleville, Illinois News-Democrat changed that situation by exposing it. Following an investigation by the newspaper, officials with the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) announced they would strictly comply with the MRSA reporting law, despite reservations.

“We have concerns about the notification process,” said IDOC spokeswoman Dede Short. “What we are going to do is ask the prisons that they follow up with written notification to the local health departments. We are going to reach out to staff and make sure that they follow up. But our first priority is treating symptoms.”

Critics, however, countered that the IDOC’s priority was in hiding the scope of the MRSA problem. “It is rampant in the prison system and they’ve been covering it up,” said Jeanine Thomas, founder of the MRSA Survivor’s Network.

According to an IDOC memorandum, laboratory tests confirmed that 1,037 prisoners were diagnosed with MRSA between July 2007 and December 2008. Another 1,094 were treated for symptoms. Further, there were 400 confirmed MRSA cases in the first six months of 2009. That translates to an infection rate of about 900 per 100,000 population, or 35 times the rate reported at San Francisco hospitals based on a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a medical journal. MRSA can be fatal, having caused 18,650 deaths nationwide in the U.S. in 2005.

The News-Democrat’s investigation revealed that the IDOC had failed to report nine MRSA outbreaks in 2008 and another four in 2009. Of the 16 outbreaks in Illinois prisons since the reporting law went into effect, the IDOC only reported three – all at the Vienne Correctional Center.

Hopefully, with full compliance with the MRSA reporting law, the IDOC will take additional preventive actions to stop the spread of MRSA infections, since the outbreaks will no longer be concealed from the public’s view.

Source: News-Democrat

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