In five months, 65 inmates in Seattle’s King County Jail have been diagnosed with MRSA, a sometimes-deadly bacterial infection resistant to most antibiotics, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Health officials say it remains unclear whether the inmates contracted the disease while in custody, or came into the jail already infected. “The fact that it develops in the jail doesn’t always mean it was caused by the jail,” said Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, chief of the communicable disease control program for Public Health for Seattle and King County.
Still, jail officials already are under scrutiny, criticized for not doing enough to control the spread of infectious disease. In a November report, investigators with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division suggested jail officials were failing to take basic measures to prevent the spread of such diseases, something they said could be accomplished by focusing on the personal hygiene of inmates, keeping the facility clean, and laundering inmate clothing adequately. MRSA is an acronym for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and is most commonly found in hospitals and other health care facilities. Since March 2006, the jail has bought 2,600 new, tear-proof mattresses to replace the old, cracked ones that can harbor viruses because they are so difficult to disinfect. The older mattresses cost $92. The newer, more sanitary mattresses are more than twice that amount — $202.