Deuel Vocational Institution has been on lockdown for two weeks since a flu-like illness infected 47 prisoners and as many as 12 employees.
No prisoners have been transferred in or out of the prison, and all visits have been canceled since the first eight cases of gastroenteritis, caused by a norovirus, were reported April 23.
The prison, which acts as a reception center, transfers about 1,000 inmates in and out each week. As of Tuesday, the prison held 3,792 inmates.
Administrative assistant Lt. Ray Munoz said prison administrators have not decided whether visits will be canceled this weekend as well.
Gastroenteritis is spread through feces, vomit, sharing food and drink and close contact with an infected person. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, headache and fever. Officials have yet to pinpoint the origin of the outbreak.
Inmates are locked in their respective prison wings, and prison health care employees make regular rounds to check for symptoms and ensure infected inmates are hydrated and treated.
“Had we not taken the proactive measures that first day, it could’ve spread a lot further,” Munoz said.
The lockdown will lift 72 hours after the last symptoms are reported.
Outbreaks are not uncommon in prisons, and the overcrowded quarters in California’s 33 prisons only increases the possibility of viruses spreading through inmate populations. DVI faced a similar outbreak a year ago after several prisoners caught a virus that was later traced to the inmate-operated dairy. San Quentin State Prison closed to all new inmates, visitors and employees in January after a similar virus spread to nearly 500 inmates and six employees. The prison relaxed its quarantine a week or two later.
The most recent outbreak at DVI came just a few days before Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders — without public comment or debate — OK’d a $7.4 billion prison construction proposal that could add 53,000 prison and jail beds and rehabilitation programs.
Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in October, saying the state’s prisons were designed for roughly 100,000 inmates but now hold more than 174,000.
Munoz said it’s too early to know how the prison construction will affect DVI.
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