No Outbreak of Antibiotic-Resistant Virus in Venice, Health Officials Say

County health officials investigating a report of as many as six cases of the antibiotic-resistant virus known as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in Venice said today in a statement that there have been "no outbreaks" confirmed in the area.

Last week the neighborhood group known as the Venice Stakeholders Association (VSA), long critical of the area's homeless encampments, announced that six cases of "apparent MRSA" in the area had been reported by Lava Mae, a nonprofit that provides mobile shower services to those without homes. The organization's L.A. director was quoted by VSA as saying that six shower users were taking drugs to treat MRSA and three others had sores consistent with the infection.

However, the office of local city Councilman Mike Bonin, which has taken a kinder view of homelessness in the beach community, fired back, saying the Lava Mae representative had been misquoted and that any reports of MRSA in the area were mere rumors.

Mark Ryavec, president of VSA, is challenging Bonin for his council seat; his group has complained about people living in RVs (and allegedly dumping sewage in neighborhood gutters) and homeless-related crime.

Homeless advocates have countered that many folks on the streets have populated Venice for far longer than many homeowners and that caring for them with services and open arms is ingrained in the community's hippie DNA. In any case, it appears that Bonin was right: Reports of MRSA among the homeless in Venice are so far unfounded.

"There is no increased risk of MRSA infection in the Venice community," according to a statement from the L.A. County Department of Public Health. "Public Health continues surveillance of possible skin infection cases among the homeless population in the Venice area."

The department stated that doctors are required to report MRSA to county officials and that only a physician can diagnose the infection. "MRSA cannot be diagnosed by visual inspection; a clinical evaluation and lab testing is required for diagnosis," the department stated. "Other bacteria and conditions can cause symptoms that are similar to MRSA."

VSA president Mark Ryavec in Venice
VSA president Mark Ryavec in Venice
Ted Soqui/L.A. Weekly

VSA's Ryavec today said via email that "the fact that there are no reported outbreaks of MRSA does not negate" the VSA-distributed statements of Lava Mae's L.A. director that six Venice homeless people had medication to fight the infection. He alleged that "Bonin and the County Health Department are trying to sweep this information under the rug instead of taking it seriously."

In an email earlier this week, Bonin suggested that Ryavec was using the MRSA "rumor" to bolster his longtime campaign against homeless services in Venice.

"Some people have used this rumor as an argument against providing services to the homeless,” Bonin said. “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."

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