Indianapolis News and Headlines


Flu confirmed as source of Putnamville outbreak

Posted at 4:31 PM, Jan 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-26 19:25:50-05

INDIANAPOLIS -- Flu has been confirmed as the source of an outbreak at Putnamville Correctional Facility which left one inmate dead and hospitalized dozens more.

The 35-year-old inmate, co-infected with MRSA, died on January 22. Prison officials say he had been healthy. They are not releasing the name of the inmate at the request of his family.

Prison Superintendent, Brian Smith, says inmates started showing flu-like symptoms on January 16. They were kept away from the general population. On the 18th, several were transferred to Terre Haute Regional Hospital after their symptoms got worse.

In total, 35 inmates have developed flu-like symptoms. 18 were hospitalized and the rest were treated at the prison's medical observation unit.

13 prisoners are still in the hospital. Two of them are in the ICU.  Indiana Department of Corrections Chief Medical Officer, Michael Mitcheff,  says one is on a respirator and is very ill. The other is showing signs of pneumonia.

15 inmates remain under observation at Putnamville.

In addition, two staff members went to the hospital with flu-like symptoms. Both were treated and released.

The prison superintendent says about a half-dozen staff have been ill.

The chief medical officer says every year the prisons anticipate a potential influenza outbreak.  They encourage everyone to get a flu shot but unfortunately many of those who are sick did not get one.

About 1,500 inmates got the flu vaccine when it was first offered last October. It is now being offered again to inmates and staff.  Those who are showing symptoms arebeing given Tamiflu.
Out of the 35 inmates infected, only three got the vaccine.  Prison officials say there's nothing they can do if inmates refuse the vaccine.
About 40% of health care staff refused as well. The prison's chief medical officer says they will probably look at the possibility of mandating that staff get the flu vaccine.
As soon as prison officials realized they weren't dealing with the  'typical' flu, the State Health Department and CDC were contacted.

They are working together on a treatment plan and to make sure the flu doesn't spread into the community. 

Authorities say what makes this outbreak unique is that it started with flu-like symptoms, but a few inmates developed rapidly progressing pneumonia.

Patients who were co-infected with the flu and MRSA were much worse.

The State Board of Health says MRSA can developafter a viral infection sets in. 

Prison officials say they did not know for certain they were dealing with the flu because rapid tests came up negative.  Tests at the State Board of Health werepositive for H1N1, which also caused a flu pandemic in 2009.

They say they will never know the source of the outbreak. The inmates who are infected were never in one place at the same time and they are all from different dorms.

The prison's chief medical officer says it isn't unusual to have seven or eight people with flu-like symptoms, but what is unusual the time is the severity.

Prison officials say they've taken every precaution to stop the spread of the flu. The prison has increased sanitizing of surfaces in the facility and they are 'cleaning continually.'  75 air handling filters have also been replaced. 
Masks were given to patients and staff in observation right away. They arrived for rest of population on Monday and were distributed on Tuesday. There are 2,266 inmates at Putnamville. Officials say those who want a mask will be getting one.
The prison's chief medical officer says masks are not part of recommendation of the State Board of Health or the CDC.
He says the key tostopping the spread of flu is sanitizing and hand washing.  Cough into your arm and don't touch your face. Prison staff have been told to go see their doctor immediately if they develop flu symptoms.
Pam Pontones from the State Board of Health says it takes a few days before someone shows symptoms of the flu. The key is to be watchful for signs and symptoms and take preventative measures.
The prison superintendent says they are going to push harder on their influenza control plan and push education for offenders.

Visitation at the facility is canceled until further notice at Putnamville. Transfers in and out of the prison have also been stopped.

Prison officials would like visitation to resume as soon as possible but will look to State Board of Health for guidance. 

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