Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Flu-Like Illness Closes San Quentin State Prison to Visitors, Volunteers and New Inmates

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation today announced that San Quentin State Prison has been closed to new inmates, volunteers and visitors as custody and health care staff contains an outbreak of gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines that causes diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, headache and fever.

First detected on Dec. 28, 2006, at least 489 inmates and six employees have become ill, prompting health care and prison administrators to temporarily restrict all inmate movement and close the institution to intake and transfers.

"We are doing everything we possibly can to stop this illness so that it does not spread to the community and to ensure medical staff can treat the inmate patients," said Warden Robert Ayers. "San Quentin State Prison has a legacy of working with the community to positively impact the lives of the offenders housed here, so protecting the public we serve is paramount," Ayers added.

San Quentin has implemented the following measures to stop any possible spread of the illness:

  • Suspending visiting until further notice,
  • Suspending attorney visits until further notice,
  • Suspending routine programs until further notice,
  • Not receiving any new inmates,
  • Not transferring any inmates.
Prison administrators expect the institution to remain closed at least through the beginning of next week.

CDCR and San Quentin medical officials, under the direction of the federal court-appointed receiver for prison health care, have informed county and state health officials and sent cultures to independent labs to determine the cause of the illness, to closely monitor its progression, and to ensure the health and safety of staff, inmates and the community. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is providing public health nurses to provide additional support.

At this time, it is not known what caused the illness and forthcoming lab results will answer that question, but officials suspect norovirus based on the symptoms and responses to hydration treatment.

Gastroenteritis can be serious if people become dehydrated and are not able to replace the fluids they lose from the diarrhea and vomiting. Immune compromised persons are at risk for dehydration as well. All inmates who are suffering symptoms are being treated with hydration therapy and are on a liquid diet. Some inmates have had to be given fluids intravenously, but no inmates have required hospitalization.

Staff is taking all necessary precautions to prevent contamination or spread of the illness:

  • Common areas are being cleaned and bleached;
  • Inmates with symptoms and inmates who have been exposed to them are confined to quarters and being fed in their cells;
  • Medical personnel are conducting wellness checks of all inmates in all housing units;
  • Hand sanitizing stations for staff and inmates are being set up in all housing units;
  • Inmates scheduled to be released to parole are being medically evaluated and will be given written instructions before they are paroled;
  • Inmates' medical appointments for non-urgent care in community medical facilities have been cancelled;
  • Inmates will not be transferred for court appearances until they are medically screened.
San Quentin State Prison serves as a reception center to complete diagnostic, medical and classification processes to determine initial institutional placement for offenders from 17 Northern California counties. CDCR administrators are notifying those counties of the closure.

San Quentin State Prison, California's oldest correctional institution, was opened July 1852 and includes a reception center, a parole violator unit, general population units, and a minimum security work crew unit. Male condemned inmates are also housed at San Quentin. The prison currently houses 5,116 inmates and employs 1,685 people.