H1N1 blamed for illness at Indiana prison

Indiana state corrections officials said Tuesday that the H1N1 flu virus led to the death of an inmate and sickened 40 others at an Indiana prison.
Courtesy: WISH

GREENCASTLE,Ind. (WISH) – Indiana state corrections officials said Tuesday that the H1N1 flu virus led to the death of an inmate and sickened 40 others at an Indiana prison.

The outbreak of flu, which began on January 16, has sickened 35 inmates and five staffers, Putnamville Correctional Facility Superintendent Brian Smith told reporters during a Tuesday afternoon news conference. As of Tuesday afternoon, 28 inmates were still ill – 13 of them hospitalized at in nearby Terre Haute and 15 others under observation at the prison.

“I didn’t realize the severity of it until Saturday,” Smith said. “We had a situation with the guy that passed away but then the other guy didn’t get sick until Saturday.”

Smith acknowledged that prison staffers were not notified of the flu outbreak until Monday, a day before the news was made public. Prison officials are now sanitizing parts of the prison, using bleach, germicides and other cleaners throughout the prison, Smith said. Staffers and prisoners are now being offered masks as a precaution and flu shots are being administered to those who ask for them.

When asked to characterize the prison’s response, Indiana Department of Corrections Medical Director Dr. Michael Mitcheff interjected, saying: “I think the prison’s response was excellent. I think the staff proactively admitted patients to the observation unit to keep them – I think the superintendent was as proactive as I’ve even seen.”

But not everyone agrees with that assessment.

I-Team 8 received numerous calls and emails with concerns from family members whose loved ones are in the prison.

Rhonda Williams said her son, Pierre Simms, is serving out a sentence on a weapons charge. Williams said he was offered a flu shot, but not until he was already ill.

“I don’t think the response has been very good because I’ve tried to personally contact them and I was constantly given the run around.”

Superintendent Smith said of the more than 2200 inmates at the Putnamville Correctional Facility, 1500 of them had been vaccinated with flu shots last fall. The remainder, he said, had initially refused to be vaccinated.

Of the 35 inmates who became ill, three had received flu shots, Smith said.

Those who became especially ill had complications due to MRSA, Dr. Mitcheff said. The one inmate who died was 35 years old and developed both MRSA and pneumonia. Family members asked that his name not be released.

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