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Avoiding Liability for Antibiotic Resistant Infections in Prisoners

NCJ Number
AELE Monthly Law Journal Issue: 3 Dated: March 2011 Pages: 301-308
Bernard J. Farber
Date Published
March 2011
8 pages
This article guides U.S. prisons and jails in avoiding liability for antibiotic-resistant infections in prisoners, specifically Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections.
MRSA is a bacterium that causes a number of infections that are difficult to treat because it has developed resistance to many widely used antibiotics, including the penicillins and the cephalosporins. Such infections can sometimes spread from the skin and soft tissues to affect vital organs, resulting in widespread infection or sepsis, as well as toxic shock syndrome, and even necrotizing ("flesh-eating") pneumonia. Those at heightened risk for MRSA infection include persons with weak immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or diabetes, as well as IV drug users and those living in confined spaces with others, including prisoners. Given the high number of inmates who are HIV positive and/or past or present IV drug users, the impact of confinement in close quarters increases the risk for MRSA outbreaks. Hundreds of reports of MRSA infection outbreaks have been reported since 2000. It is a serious health problem in many jails and prisons; and it can also become a serious liability issue for prisons and jails if not properly managed. After examining the nature and scope of this problem, this guide reviews court decisions that have addressed this issue. These court rulings indicate that failure to take certain types of prophylactic measures to prevent such infection can incur civil liability for deliberate indifference to a serious risk to prisoner health. Recommendations from the Federal Bureau of Prisons' publication, "Clinical Practice Guidelines," are then presented on the management of such infections. Useful resources and references are listed.