First posted on Monday, January 2nd at 9:50 a.m.
Updated at 9:22 p.m.
By Melanie Camp
Concerns that Venice is on the verge of a bacterial outbreak have neighbors living near Rose and 3rd Avenues worried.
A representative of Lava-Mae, the mobile hygiene organization that provides showers to those homeless in Venice, has reported what they believed to be six of cases of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in those who have been using the Lava-Mae showers on 3rd and Rose.
Commonly referred to as MRSA, the antibiotic-resistant bacteria are responsible for several difficult-to-treat infections in humans.
Yo! Venice reached out to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health over the Holiday Weekend to follow up on the report. The Department responded, saying it is aware and is investigating to determine what actions may be needed.
Jasmin Mouflard, Lava-Mae’s Los Angeles Director, said six homeless neighbors who use the Lava Mae showers were taking drugs to treat MRSA. However, Lava Mae volunteers had seen “another three people who have the open sores that suggest they also are infected with the staphylococcus bacteria.”
The Department of Public Health said other bacteria and conditions could cause signs and symptoms that are similar to MRSA and “it is important to note that MRSA cannot be diagnosed by visual inspection; a clinical evaluation and lab testing is required for diagnosis.”
Mouflard said that while Lava Mae volunteers are not health care professionals, “we concluded that at least the six who have been prescribed with drugs to treat the bacteria have MRSA.”
Councilmember Mike Bonin said observations made by Lava Mae volunteers had been taken out of context.
“At a recent community meeting, when discussing the benefits of providing people living on the street basic hygienic services, a Lava Mae employee mentioned that some of the people who Lava Mae serves in Venice had prescriptions for medication to treat staph infections. This mention of medication has fueled a rumor that quickly spread in Venice about an outbreak of staph infections.”
Bonin said his office immediately looked into the rumor and had been in touch with Lava Mae, the County Supervisor’s Office, the Venice City-County-Community Outreach Team (C3), and the nurse practitioner housed at Venice Family Clinic in Venice.
“People living on the streets are at risk of disease and infection, but all relevant officials assure us there is no abnormal incident of illness in Venice. Supervisor Kuehl’s office has already been in touch with the County Department of Public Health, and has committed to focusing Department of Public Health resources on the area.”
Venice local Rick Swinger contacted Yo! Venice in December worried about the possibility of a MRSA outbreak in the neighborhood.
“This certainly appears to be dangerous for the homeless population in the area. I have also been told that it could represent a health risk for residents who can pick it up from their shoes or from their dogs by walking in the area,” said Swinger.
Mark Ryavec, President of Venice Stakeholders Association said, “At the first notice of the presence of MRSA, the County Health Department should have instituted “best practices” that are routinely applied in hospitals and locker rooms to contain and eradicate the bacteria.”
According to the Public Health, physicians are required to report MRSA cases to the Department and at this stage, “no outbreaks of MRSA have been reported to Public Health.”
Mouflard said that Lava Mae sprays the disinfectant Oxivir 516 Concentrate over the shower walls and floor, as well as the ground nearby after each shower use. She said the chemical kills MRSA in five minutes. However, volunteers do not have the time or resources to treat the entire sidewalk along 3rd or Rose Avenues.
MRSA is transmitted through contact with a person carrying it or by touching objects contaminated with it. It can affect healthy people who live in crowded environments or who are frequently involved in group activities, including child care workers, inmates, and athletes.
Commonly found in the nose, MRSA can spread through a sneeze or a cough. If the bacteria colonize the skin, frequent scratching increases a carrier’s risk of spreading MRSA. MRSA can gradually infect vital organs.
Bonin warns against fear mongering, saying more now than ever it is necessary for neighbors to support in helping those homeless off the streets.
“Inexplicably, some people have used this rumor as an argument against providing services to the homeless. Rather, I believe that this situation highlights the urgent need to help people who are forced to live on the street by providing them services such as basic hygiene and medical care, as well as resources that will help connect them with housing opportunities. I am grateful for the work of the women and men who provide services and dignity to people living on the streets, as I am for everyone who works every day to end homelessness in our neighborhoods.”
Yo! Venice will remain in contact with Public Health and keep up to date with any further developments.