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Old 08-08-2003, 10:30 AM
vlcoffman vlcoffman is offline
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Default 64 more inmates positive for TB

64 more inmates positive for TB

Some of the work-release prisoners who have been exposed work at restaurants around the area; it's uncertain whether any have developed the disease


Environment Editor

More than a third of the 240 inmates at a Mobile work-release facility have tested positive for tuberculosis infection, health officials said Thursday, as they continued to investigate how a fellow inmate working at a local restaurant became contagious.

Health care officials have not yet determined whether the 64 inmates who tested positive this week have developed active -- and therefore contagious -- tuberculosis. Many people who are infected never develop the full-blown disease, particularly if they follow up with preventive drug treatments.

Twenty-nine other inmates at the facility had already been identified as infected with TB, as a result of annual testing by the prison department. These inmates should have already received preventive drug treatments, according to prison officials, and should not be contagious.

Tests on four other inmates were inconclusive, according to the Health Department.

If chest X-rays, which are still being reviewed, indicate that any of the infected inmates are active carriers of the disease, state health care officials say they may have to expand the investigation to other Mobile workplaces.

The inmates at the facility work at some 60 businesses in the Mobile area, including some 11 other local restaurants, according to Department of Correction officials.

Joe Jablecki, tuberculosis control coordinator for Mobile County, said Thursday he's optimistic that none of the inmates' cases will prove to be active. He said health care officials didn't detect symptoms of full-blown tuberculosis in a preliminary screening of the inmates.

Health care workers began the investigation in July, when an inmate who had been working for several months at the Barnhill's Country Buffet at Airport and University boulevards became seriously ill with the disease.

Most of the restaurant's employees have already been tested. Seven showed signs of exposure to the disease, and will undergo a drug treatment to ensure they don't develop active cases. Health care workers say that it's "very unlikely" that any of the restaurant's patrons would have been exposed to the inmate long enough to be infected.

Tuberculosis is one of the world's most deadly diseases, but in recent decades early detection and treatment have reduced its threat in most developed countries.

Still, Jablecki noted that his office typically investigates dozens of active tuberculosis cases each year in the Mobile area. Many of those cases, he said, involve elderly people who were infected with the bacteria decades ago but never developed active symptoms until their immune systems began to falter.

Bert Eichold, Mobile County's chief health officer, noted that the tuberculosis infection rate among prisoners is typically much higher than the infection rate among the general population. Disease specialists say that's because prisons offer nearly ideal conditions for the spread of the bacteria. Tuberculosis infections spread rapidly among people who live together in close quarters, and poor health care in many prisons has helped to foster drug-resistant varieties of tuberculosis.

According to Department of Corrections officials, prisoners are tested for tuberculosis infection when they enter the system, and each year thereafter. Prison and health officials say they are still trying to determine how the work release prisoner's case escaped notice for so long.

Ghee let me guess.... poor medical attention

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