May 24, 2006
SACRAMENTO — Nearly 1,300 inmates at nine California prisons have been stricken with gastroenteritis, according to corrections officials, who remain stumped by the source of the bacterial outbreak.
Some inmates have been hospitalized, but most have been treated in their cells for vomiting, fever, headaches, diarrhea and cramping caused by Campylobacter bacteria. A small number of staff members also have become ill.
The symptoms surfaced at Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy, east of San Francisco, where 379 inmates have fallen ill since May 16. The contagious disease has since struck inmates at state prisons elsewhere in the San Joaquin Valley and also in Folsom, the Sierra foothills and Norco in Riverside County.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Terry Thornton, said health authorities have not pinpointed the source of the bacteria. She said Campylobacter can be spread through contaminated water or food, including meat or unpasteurized milk.
“It’s a mystery right now,” Thornton said. “We’re looking at everything.”
Most of the prisons with ill inmates were initially placed on 24-hour “lockdown” status after the outbreak, to reduce contact with contagious inmates and to free up staff to help with treatment, Thornton said. While on lockdown, prisons close to visitors and halt inmate programs and education.
Thornton said prison healthcare workers were most concerned about dehydration from excessive vomiting. Some inmates have been given intravenous fluids, she said.