Officials battle hepatitis A outbreak at jail Balto. County center reports three confirmed and two probable cases

September 07, 1998|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

State and local health officials are working to contain an outbreak of hepatitis A at the Baltimore County Detention Center and authorities said yesterday they suspect the virus was spread by an infected food service worker.

"We have three confirmed cases of hepatitis A and two probable, awaiting further testing," said Dr. Michelle A. Leverett, director of the Baltimore County Health Department.

A state health department spokesman said two of the confirmed cases involved inmates who worked in food service at the detention center.

Paul J. Davis, deputy administrator of the county Bureau of Corrections, said the confirmed and probable cases are all inmates who have been isolated to prevent further spread of the infectious liver disease.

Leverett said about 60 inmates and corrections officers deemed at risk were given shots of immune globulin.

"It's like giving someone a dose of antibody to boost up their immune system," she said.

Leverett said it was a routine situation for containing an infectious disease.

"The bottom line is we think that we've captured all of those who are either infected or are at the greatest risk of becoming infected with hepatitis A. We removed the people who needed to be removed, treated those who needed to be treated and we're confident we have this under reasonable control."

Hepatitis A often is spread through food, Leverett said. Usually, it happens when someone handling food fails to wash his hands adequately after using the bathroom and the food becomes contaminated with fecal material, she said.

Leverett said that contamination is the suspected cause of the outbreak at the detention center.

State health department officials said the three confirmed and two probable cases had an onset of the illness between Aug. 23 and Thursday. Investigators believe a common source of exposure likely occurred during the first half of August.

The virus, which can be spread through close contact with an infected person, causes an infection of the liver. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, jaundice and stomach pains, but the illness is almost never fatal and rarely causes severe complications, state health officials said.

Leverett said the immune globulin shots were given to those who had been in close contact with the infected inmates and those who appeared at greatest risk of possibly contracting the disease.

Davis said most of those given the immune globulin shots were inmates, although "about five or so dietary officers" working for the corrections department also got the shots.

State health officials said they are concerned because 30 to 50 inmates leave the Baltimore County Detention Center each day for other prison facilities or are released to the community, and some might be incubating the hepatitis A virus without knowing it.

The facility houses 879 inmates.

Other prisons that receive inmates from the county's detention center have been alerted to monitor inmates for symptoms of hepatitis A, state health officials said.

Pub Date: 9/07/98

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