Tenn. jails working hard to contain swine flu


By Jacqueline Koch
Chattanooga Times Free Press

Many local jails are taking precautions against a possible outbreak of H1N1 influenza, but shifting populations make the task difficult.

Safeguarding workplaces and schools against outbreaks is fairly straightforward because employees and students return daily to the same location. Not so in jails. New inmates constantly are being booked and released, said Lt. Wesley Lynch, who oversees operations at the Whitfield County Jail.

"You can't just immunize everyone in the jail because, two weeks later, only half the jail will be immunized," Lt. Lynch said.

While officials said there have been no serious outbreaks of H1N1 flu at local jails, many are taking precautions against an outbreak the same way they try to prevent any other virus or disease from spreading.

Medical staff at the Hamilton County Jail immediately respond to inmates who appear to be sick and medicate those who are, said Capt. John Swope, who oversees jail operations. So far, the jail has had a few inmates with colds and regular flu, but not H1N1 flu, he said.

Extra cleaning and scrubbing take place in cells that housed sick inmates, and clothes are changed more often, Capt. Swope said. Employees also change air filters more frequently when an illness is circulating, he said.

"The bottom line is just the washing of hands and instructing the inmates to wash their hands, and overall keeping the facility clean," Capt. Swope said.

Silverdale Detention Center, as it does during every flu season, requests and receives vaccinations for inmates more likely to get a virus, spokesman Elijah Light said.

"It's the elderly inmates and usually those with chronic conditions already that are at high risk to get the flu," he said.

At Whitfield County Jail, when inmates are booked, employees note whether they appear to be sick, then take their temperature and isolate them if they are ill, Lt. Lynch said.

He said the isolation plan was developed several years ago and calls for extra sanitation of popularly used items such as door handles and telephones, in addition to the sanitary techniques the jail already employs.

The department also issued guidelines to employees about how to recognize the flu and asks them to stay home if they're sick, Lt. Lynch said.

In Bradley County, Tenn., employees quarantine inmates who appear to be sick. In the case of an epidemic, a contingency plan could allow for an entire group of inmates to be isolated, Sheriff Tim Gobble said.

Employees can wear masks and use hand sanitizer, but the jail never has had more than a few people affected by any given virus, he said. The H1N1 flu strain has not been a problem there, he said.

JAIL, PRISON FLU PRECAUTIONS

* Hand hygiene: Washing hands with soap and water and using hand sanitizer

* Respiratory etiquette: Cover mouth and nose with tissue or shirtsleeve when sneezing or coughing

* Frequent cleaning of "high-touch" surfaces: Handrails, doorknobs, elevator buttons etc.

* Post educational posters throughout facility

* Enforce intensive screening of inmates at reception centers and in sick call

Source: Tennessee Department of Correction

Copyright 2009 Chattanooga Publishing Company

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