TB outbreak twice as bad as reported More cases expected a Hagerstown jail

May 29, 1992|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer

The first test results for tuberculosis at the Roxbury Correctional Institution in Hagerstown show that about a third of 550 inmates and 10 percent of the prison staff tested positive for the disease, the warden said last night.

The number of inmates who tested positive for the disease is about twice the number released earlier by the Maryland Division of Correction, before additional test results became available.

Roxbury Warden Jon P. Galley also said an inmate with an active case of tuberculosis who is suspected of exposing other inmates to the disease has a strain of tuberculosis that is resistant to two drugs.

By being resistant to two drugs, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene considers that type of tuberculosis a multiple drug-resistant strain of the disease. At this point, it remains unclear whether the strain is similar to the type that swept through the New York prison system last year, health officials said yesterday.

Mr. Galley said he expected the overall percentage of inmates who test positive to drop, as the test results of another 1,300 Roxbury inmates become available between today and Sunday.

The first group of about 550 inmates were the prisoners who were in closest contact with an inmate later diagnosed with an active case of the disease, Mr. Galley said.

Mr. Galley said that 9.8 percent of the 437 staff members tested for TB showed positive. Those 41 staff members included both )) correctional officers and non-correctional officers, he said.

Inmates and staff who tested positive -- which is not an indication of an active case of tuberculosis -- began being X-rayed Wednesday for evidence of the disease, he said.

The Division of Correction is scheduled to hold a press conference today to update the extent of the outbreak of tuberculosis throughout the prison system and detail steps the agency is taking to stem the spread of the disease in the high-risk population.

So far this year, 11 inmates have been diagnosed as having active cases of the disease at six prison facilities across the state. The most extensive testing has been at Roxbury.

Meanwhile, concerned about the rapid rise of tuberculosis among inmates, the Division of Correction will upgrade special medical isolation rooms for prisoners afflicted with the disease at each of the state's five regional prison infirmaries, a correction spokesman said yesterday.

Isolation units already exist at the infirmaries, but now will be upgraded with special ventilation units to handle the expected additional load of active tuberculosis cases, said Sgt. Gregory M. Shipley, the correction spokesman. "The need is certainly there. . . . We're anticipating this need, and that's why this is occurring," Sergeant Shipley said.

Inmates currently diagnosed with tuberculosis have been sent to Eastern Correctional Institution (ECI) in Somerset County, which has the prison system's most modern ventilation system in the infirmary's isolation room, Warden Galley said. But that system, too, will be upgraded, Sergeant Shipley said.

The so-called "negative-pressure" ventilation system is designed to change the air in the isolation unit several times an hour and protect other inmates from being exposed to airborne tuberculosis bacteria, Sergeant Shipley said.

The infirmaries are located at the Maryland Penitentiary in Baltimore; the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup; Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup; Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown, and ECI.

In addition to Roxbury, tuberculosis tests have been administered at ECI; the Central Laundry Pre-release Unit in Sykesville; Poplar Hill Pre-Release Unit in Wicomico County; the House of Correction, and the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown.

Sergeant Shipley said last night that an inmate believed to have an active case of tuberculosis at the Maryland Correctional Training Center did not, in fact, have an active case. Testing of inmates at that facility, which began Tuesday, will continue, he -- said.

Inmates and staff who test positive are getting antibiotics that should prevent them from becoming ill and spreading the disease, prison officials have said.

Tuberculosis is a potentially deadly infection of the lungs spread by a patient's coughing. The main symptoms include a severe cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, fever, sweating and weight loss.

A positive skin test reveals if someone carries TB bacteria -- not if he or she has active tuberculosis. Only 10 percent of infected people will develop active TB and pose a threat to others.

By taking antibiotics, carriers can virtually eliminate their chance of getting ill, according to the American Lung Association.

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