Staph — staphylococcus aureus — is a growing concern in Michigan’s jails and prisons, with outbreaks reported in two county jails over the past few months. The state Department of Community Health says the bacterial infection is spreading, not only in prisons, but also wherever people gather. Said Dawn Sievert, epidemiologist with the Michigan Department of Community Health: “We started to see it spread in the early 1990s with drug users who shared needles. Then it started to spread into homeless shelters, jails and prisons. It’s really picked up in the past 3-5 years.”
Because staph thrives in areas where people are in close proximity, overcrowded jails and prisons are breeding grounds. “When I first started, we had only about 300 people in the jail,” Macomb County Undersheriff Kent Lagerquist said. “Now, there are about 1,500. That definitely adds to the problem.” Staph infections are caused by bacteria that are commonly carried on the skin or in the noses of healthy people. Staph bacteria can cause skin infections that may resemble pimples or boils. More serious infections may cause pneumonia or bloodstream infections. In 2005, two inmates in Calhoun County Jail died after contracting staph infections.