After finishing a term at Pennsylvania’s Gloucester County Jail, Michael DiFelice developoed a septic cyst that a doctor said would “explode unless we operate,” says the Philadelphia Inquirer. He suffered from methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus – MRSA – a strain of a common bacterium that causes staph infections, spreads by casual contact that sometimes goes undetected until it shows up as a boil or a swollen area. A recent nationwide scare over staph was driven by a federal study that estimated the number of MRSA deaths at 19,000, and by an infected 17-year-old student’s death in Virginia.
At the Gloucester County Jail, MRSA spread among inmates to corrections officers and beyond: Several spouses of inmates and corrections officers were infected. No one has died, but the infections have left many of the victims with lifelong medical complications, produced 18 lawsuits, and raised questions about the jail’s response. Lawsuits have already cost tens of thousands of dollars to defend, and there is a precedent for substantial jury awards and payments to plaintiffs. The Bucks County Jail was the subject of 19 MRSA-related lawsuits. Two years ago a jury awarded $800,000 and $400,000 to two inmates, and $150,000 settlements were reached with others. A lawsuit to improve conditions at the jail, filed on behalf of 36 inmates, is pending. Corrections facilities are vulnerable to MRSA because the germ spreads in close quarters and thrives in unsanitary settings.