It’s Your Health: The New Prison Scourge

by Prisoner, CCWF
Note: In the last issue of The Fire Inside we printed an article from a sister at VSPW about the denial of sufficient soap and water for basic hygiene and the spread of antibiotic resistant staph infections and hepatitis. Here is a detailed follow-up from a sister at CCWF.
Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a very serious and sometimes fatal infection that is causing great concern in hospitals and other institutional settings, such as prisons. MRSA can kill and is very difficult to treat once it gets established. How many cases we?ve had at CCWF is hard to measure, partly because the infection has been misdiagnosed as “spider bites” or skin rashes. But several women have developed life-threatening episodes of this infection requiring hospitalization at Madera Community Hospital and intravenous antibiotic therapy.
MRSA has been around for a while, but in the last 4 years there has been an exponential increase of this disease in county jails and prison systems throughout the US. For example, L.A. County jails reported increases from 921 cases of MRSA in 2002 to 2,480 cases in 2004. A well-drafted lawsuit on behalf of all current and former L.A. county jail residents alleges 8th and 14th Amendment violations for improper conditions of confinement, cruel and unusual punishment, and failure of duty to care for prisoners.
Even the guards? union (CCPOA) has expressed concern for the risks the disease presents to prison guards (COs). E. Fitzgerald, president of Santa Clara CCPOA said, “MRSA is spiraling out of control.” Two COs are suing for being exposed to MRSA and carrying this infection home to their infants.
What does MRSA look like?
MRSA usually starts with a skin boil, pimple or sore. These sores are often just “tip of the iceberg” as the infection is festering underneath. Redness, swelling, chills and fever are common symptoms.
What can I do if I think I have it?
1. Seek help immediately. Waiting even for one day can make you a lot sicker and place your friends and roommates at risk.
2. Go to the MTA or preferably the RN. Tell them you think you have MRSA. Write a co-pay using the words “suspected MRSA,” hand carry the co-pay and keep the back copy. Ask for a culture if the sore is open and draining. You cannot be charged for this co-pay as this is a communicable disease outbreak that the prison health department has a responsibility to monitor.
3. Do what you can to help your body heal. How you view your health and wellness has a profound effect on your body’s ability to heal itself. Drink lots of water, eat healthy foods, rest more than usual and envision the MRSA germs being devoured by your own infection-fighting white blood cells.
4. Take the full course of antibiotic exactly as it has been prescribed.
5. Don’t share medicine or take anyone else’s medications. It is partly the indiscriminate use of antibiotics that has caused MRSA to be so virulent. When you take just a few antibiotic pills you do more harm than good and actually increase MRSA’s resistance to treatment.
What can I do to prevent infecting others?
1. First of all, don’t feel ashamed or “unclean” because you have it. Anyone can get it, and coming down with MRSA is not necessarily a reflection of poor hygiene.
2. Wash your hands, wash your hands, and wash your hands again! Seriously, hand washing is the single best way to prevent the spread of infection ? more effective than all the chemical sprays, germicides, etc.
3. Spray citricide frequently on surfaces you commonly touch. Don’t forget doorknobs, chair backs, and other places that many people touch. Dilute the citricide as recommended, stronger is not necessarily better and undiluted citricide has its own side effects.
4. Wash you towels, bedding and clothes more frequently. With 3 washers and dryers in all housing units now, hopefully this will be a little easier to do.
5. If you have had MRSA once, there is some research that shows you may be more susceptible to repeat infections. Tell the RN or MTA that you’ve had it before and suspect you are getting it again. After all, you know your own body better than anyone else.
This serious infection is difficult to control in overcrowded prisons, but everything you do to help yourself and prevent transmission helps you stay healthy and promotes wellness for everyone.