By Jeff Noble / Staff Writer
Results of what caused the recent death of an inmate in Laurel County are expected to be known today (Friday), according to county coroner Doug Bowling.
Bowling said Thursday he’s awaiting the results of an autopsy performed on Cortney Renea Beldon Hensley. The 28-year-old woman died March 9 in the Laurel County Detention Center in London.
Bowling said he would call the pathologist in Frankfort doing the autopsy Friday, to see if the inmate’s cause of death could possibly be from MRSA.
He confirmed one person died of what was listed as pneumonia and MRSA. That was Paul Ryan, from the Anvil community, who died at Saint Joseph London hospital on March 8. Bowling added another person, Eric Allen of Laurel County, did test positive for MRSA after he was sent to Central Baptist Hospital in Lexington, but never died.
An investigation of illnesses in Laurel County — including those caused by MRSA —is continuing, with both local and state public health organizations in the forefront.
So far, Laurel County Health Department director, Mark Hensley has said four area patients have been recognized by local health departments with flu-like symptoms and shortness of breath, which had had serious outcomes.
“The departments are working with local hospitals and health care providers to investigate this cluster of illnesses, in order to determine if they are related, and if so, if there is a public health concern. The departments are also working with and receiving assistance from the Kentucky Department for Public Health. At this time, no public health threat has been identified,” Hensley said in an email Wednesday.
He confirmed MRSA was being considered as a possible source of illness, but that MRSA is commonly “colonized” on the skin or in the nose of many people.
According to one state health website, the distinction between staph (including MRSA) and infection are important to point out.
“Colonization” is the presence of bacteria, but no signs of illness or infection. Staph thrives in warm moist places, such as the nostrils, underarms, groin and belly button.
“Infection” is the clinical signs of illness or inflammation, such as redness, localized pain and tenderness, swelling, fever, pus and warmth. It’s due to tissue damage caused by invasion of the bacteria. Infection does require treatment, but treatment does not always require using an antibiotic.
“Some of these people may develop illnesses due to MRSA, but many do not. Illnesses caused by MRSA usually manifests itself as skin lesions, but more rarely can result in pneumonia,” noted Hensley.
A spokesperson for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services said Wednesday they were still doing some testing and looking into different possibilities.
“Originally, we were looking at 4-7 cases being looked at this time. We haven’t had any new cases in the last 10 days, and there’s no reason for the general public to be alarmed. … We’re still looking at whether they’re linked. Right now, we don’t know. MRSA is one source of illness that we’re considering, but just because people are testing positive for MRSA doesn’t mean that someone has it,” Gwenda Bond said in a phone interview from Frankfort.
Hensley added that public health authorities cannot give out patient-specific information, for confidentiality reasons.