SUNBURY — The brouhaha over the alleged MRSA outbreak inside the Northumberland County Prison is an attempt at financial gain by some inmates, Warden Roy Johnson said Wednesday.

There have been four confirmed cases of the skin infection known as MRSA since April, and all the diagnosed inmates came into the jail with the malady.

Johnson said one inmate, who has been locked up since November and asked not to be identified by The Daily Item, made up the story of having contracted methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, while in custody.

“He’s lying,” the warden said.

Johnson said two state inmates who went on a brief hunger strike last week to protest prison conditions are simply trying to use the MRSA scare for potential financial gain.

“It’s a manipulation game and an attempt to cost taxpayers money. There’s no more chance of getting it here than in a hospital,” he said. “We have not had one person leave here and say they’ve gotten it while here.”

All four inmates who were confirmed to have MRSA have been released from jail, Johnson said.

“They’re out now, walking around the mall,” he said.

Since the “superbug” emerged a few years ago, it’s been diagnosed with more regularity among healthy people leading normal lives, said Dr. Anthony Billas, a family practice physician at Geisinger’s Knapper Clinic, Danville.

Usually fairly easy to treat with antibiotics, the prime way to protect oneself from the infection is through proper hygiene, including thorough hand washing, and avoiding direct contact with an infected person, he said.

“We don’t lock people in the house” following a diagnosis, Billas said. “There’s no quarantine.”

It’s more prevalent in group settings, such as locker rooms where athletes convene.

Johnson said, “It is contagious, and it’s bad if you get it, but we aren’t any worse than other prisons.”

While the protocol in the state prison system is to treat MRSA patients with a “Band-Aid,” he said the county takes a more aggressive stance by isolating any inmate that has entered the jail with the infection during the first few days of treatment.

Inmates are given disinfectant daily to clean cells, and monthly inmate checks for MRSA are carried out by staff.

“If it’s here, we’re going to find it,” Johnson said.

All but disciplined inmates are allowed daily showers, and the county is spending money to upgrade the jail’s food and laundry facilities.

To reduce staff error, automated dispensers have been added in washing machines and dishwashers to ensure the correct amount of detergent is used.

-- E-mail comments to mmoore@dailyitem.com.

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