Maine inmate likely died from the flu at infected prison, agency says

Posted April 05, 2012, at 12:54 p.m.
Last modified April 05, 2012, at 7:43 p.m.

WARREN, Maine — A prison inmate in Warren likely died last year from the flu, a disease that most prisoners are not given vaccinations for, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A post on the agency’s website said Thursday that “on March 8, 2011, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention received a laboratory report of a positive influenza specimen from an intensive-care unit patient who was an inmate at a prison (facility A). That same day, the state medical examiner notified Maine CDC of an inmate death suspected to be have been caused by influenza at another, nearby prison (facility B).”

The prisoner who died was described as a “previously healthy” 29-year-old male who experienced an “onset of rapidly progressive respiratory symptoms on March 7 [2011].” The report indicated that he had never been vaccinated for the influenza. He died on March 8.

The CDC statement said that about 40 other inmates and several staff members at both facilities were sick with the flu.

Neither the facilities nor the prisoner who died were identified in the report. But it described facility A as “a medium to maximum security prison that can house up to 916 inmates” and facility B as “a minimum security prison that can house up to 222 inmates.” The Maine State Prison in Warren has a capacity of 916 inmates and the nearby Bolduc Correctional Facility has a capacity of 222 inmates, according to the Maine Department of Corrections website.

“Correctional Medical Services, which provides health services to both facilities … reported that influenza vaccination coverage among inmates was very low (less than 10 percent), and coverage among staff members was unknown but believed to be low,” the CDC wrote.

The CDC went on to say that “Maine CDC assisted [Correctional Medical Services] and the Maine Department of Corrections in conducting an epidemiologic investigation to gather more information about the two cases, initiate case finding[s] and implement control measures, which included emphasizing respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette, closing both facilities to new admissions and transfers and offering vaccination and antiviral drugs to inmates and staff members.”

After the initial outbreak, the prisoners and staff members were offered vaccinations, the CDC wrote.

Dr. Stephen Sears of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that quick response from six Maine CDC public health nurses, who conducted screenings and administered vaccines to more than 800 inmates and numerous corrections employees, prevented the further spread of the flu within the state’s prison system.

Sears, the state’s epidemiologist, said Thursday that the spread of contagious diseases such as influenza is not uncommon in institutional settings, including schools, prisons, military boot camps, nursing homes and hospitals — simply put, places where people are in close contact.

He said this season has seen sporadic cases of the flu both in Maine and throughout the United States. He added that he is not aware of any deaths from influenza in Maine this year.

“The one thing I would emphasize with everybody is that the season isn’t over,” Sears said, noting that the typical flu season runs from October through early May of each year. He also said past clusters or outbreaks of influenza have occurred around this time of year, namely late March into early April.

But he said this year has “turned out to be not that bad” so far in terms of influenza.

“People are more aware of it and have been taking precautions,” such as frequent hand washing and covering their mouths and noses when they cough or sneeze, said Sears.

“We hope that [awareness] carries through to next year,” he said.

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