By Magen McCrarey
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
A deadly illness in Laurel County has sparked an investigation by the Laurel County Health Department. The culprit is an uncommon strain of MRSA — or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Areueus, MRSA 300 — that is known to be transmitted by the public.
Mark Hensley, director of the health department, said four local patients have had similar symptoms, which have had serious outcomes including death. The department is working with local hospitals and health care providers to investigate this cluster of illnesses and is receiving assistance from the Kentucky Department for Public Health in order to determine if the four instances are related and, if so, if there is a public health concern.
The first case of MRSA cropped up at Saint Joseph London on March, 8, according to Laurel County Coroner Doug Bowling. Paul David Ryan, 54, from Annville, Ky., a local Sara Lee Bakery employee, died as a result of pneumonia and MRSA. The second man suspected to be infected with MRSA was taken to Central Baptist Hospital in Lexington. All four patients involved in the investigation displayed shortness of breath and flu-like symptoms.
"At this time, no public health threat has been identified and we do not have evidence that would support flu as the cause of the cluster of illnesses," Hensley said.
MRSA is resistant to drugs commonly used to treat staph. If MRSA goes untreated, it can reach the infected person's bloodstream and become deadly — in some cases, within two weeks of getting the infection. Illness caused by MRSA usually manifests itself in skin lesions, but more rarely can result in pneumonia.
"MRSA is being considered as one possible source of illness. However, MRSA is commonly colonized on the skin or in the nose. Some people may develop illness due to MRSA, but many do not," Hensley said.
"No new patients that fit this pattern have been identified in the area in the last 10 days. However, public health authorities are continuing to conduct surveillance for any new cases."
For patient confidentiality reasons, the public health authorities are unable to divulge patient-specific information.