July 24, 2009 in Idaho

Idaho prison weathers swine flu outbreak

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE – A swine flu outbreak at Idaho’s privately operated prison south of Boise has sickened at least 13 inmates, and all visitors or volunteers have been shut out for at least two weeks.

“We went ahead and quarantined all of those inmates, separated them from the general population,” said Warden Phillip Valdez of the Idaho Correctional Center, which is operated for the state by Corrections Corp. of America.

CCA first reported to the state Department of Correction that H1N1 virus had shown up at its facility around July 14, said Teresa Jones, department spokeswoman. “At that point, we said, ‘OK, we’ll stop movement and isolate it,’” Jones said. That meant no inmates went in or out for a week, even if they were scheduled to be transferred elsewhere.

Now, however, the entire private prison has been sanitized and all sick inmates have been quarantined, so regular inmate movements have resumed, including transfers into the facility. Valdez said he hopes to allow visitors and volunteers by Friday.

“What we wanted to do was reassure the population that everything was going to be fine. We had medical personnel on-site, contacts with the health department,” he said.

The warden said he has no idea how the virus got into the prison. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza can survive on surfaces for two to eight hours, spreading the disease.

None of the inmates who contracted it have had complications. All have suffered high fevers that peaked on the third day, the warden said.

The ICC houses 1,805 Idaho inmates, including 708 in open dormitories, in which 59 inmates share a single dorm unit filled with bunk beds. Other prisoners are housed in two-man cells.

“We’ve done a lot of communication with the population and making sure that we educate them on proper hygiene practices, and that they’re aware that the chemicals are available for sanitation purposes,” Valdez said. “They’ve been extremely compliant.”

In late June, one inmate at the South Idaho Correctional Institution Community Work Center, a state-operated facility also located south of Boise, tested positive for the swine flu virus. That inmate was moved to an isolation unit.

Symptoms of H1N1 flu are similar to those of seasonal flu, and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue, according to the CDC. Some patients also suffer from diarrhea and vomiting.


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