Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus bacteria, commonly known as MRSA, is an epidemic plaguing all law enforcement agencies and correctional facilities in the United States. The bacteria causes a drug resistant infection that is as effective as a bullet in wreaking pain, suffering and even death, killing more than 100,000 people in U.S. hospitals alone every year.
Until the late 1990s, MRSA was found exclusively in hospitals. But beginning in 1998, a community-associated form of the deadly bacteria, CA-MRSA, emerged globally, with more potent toxins than hospital-acquired MRSA. It is now found in all law enforcement environments: jails, correctional facilities, police and sheriff cruisers, inmate transport vehicles, as well as in the areas officers must patrol.
Police Officer Christopher Seggi learned the hard way just how easy it is to acquire this virulent bacteria strain when he responded to a "routine" suspect transport in December 2006. When placing the suspect, taken into custody by the Orlando (Florida) Police Department's drug team, into his police cruiser, Seggi noticed what appeared to be spider bites on the man's leg. However, no open sores or bleeding were present. Seggi transported the suspect to the Orange County Correctional Facility and transferred custody without incident - but an infectious time bomb was left behind in his vehicle.
Out of an abundance of caution, Seggi returned to his cruiser and attempted to clean its backseat with a traditional "spray and wipe" cleaning method. There were no indications of infectious contaminants anywhere in the vehicle. The officer leaned on the backseat where the suspect had been restrained and was wearing his standard department-issued uniform, including long pants.
Several days after the incident, the Orlando officer noticed what appeared to be a spider bite on his right knee. Thinking it was merely an insect bite, he disregarded it and went about his daily life. He went home to his wife, commuted in his personal vehicle, had dinner with family and friends, and even traveled on an airplane.
A little more than a week later, Seggi noticed he suffered the same insect-type bites on his knee and elbow that he'd seen on the suspect's leg. While sitting in roll call, a safety bulletin on MRSA was circulated among officers. As Seggi read the bulletin, he began to go through the symptom checklist in his mind. He had what appeared to be insect bites and a rash on his skin, and the skin was warm and painful to the touch. After a visit with the doctor and several tests later, Seggi learned he had contracted an infection from MRSA.
What is MRSA?
Staph bacteria, including MRSA, can cause skin infections that may look like a pimple or boil and can be red, swollen, painful, or have pus or other drainage. More serious infections may cause pneumonia, bloodstream infections, or surgical wound infections.
MRSA is a severe and sometimes deadly staph infection that is resistant to most beta-lactam antibiotics, which include methicillin and other more common antibiotics such as oxacillin, penicillin and amoxicillin. It is contagious through casual contact between individuals, shared surfaces and even personal items such as towels and linens. The infection is very painful, can be deadly, and treatment consists of draining and debriding the wound followed by multiple potent doses of antibiotics that cause most patients to feel ill during treatment.
What's worse is MRSA is a growing epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report staph bacteria are one of the most common causes of skin infection in the United States and are a common cause of pneumonia, surgical wound infections and bloodstream infections. The majority of MRSA infections occur among patients in hospitals or other health care settings; however, the CDC reports it is becoming more common in the community setting. Data from a 2003 CDC study, suggests that 12 percent of clinical MRSA infections are community-associated, but this varies by geographic region and population.