Prison battles deadly illness

December 05, 2002 11:00 pm

By AMY LINDBLOM

Nearly 3,000 inmates and 56 officers at Sierra Conservation Center are now on antibiotics as a preventative measure after a 25-year-old inmate was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis Wednesday.

"We are treating this as a worst-case scenario," said Jerry Underwood, spokesman for the state prison on O'Byrnes Ferry Road. "One good thing about the prison is we can track everyone so we know exactly who was exposed to this man."

The inmate was first taken to Tuolumne General Hospital on Wednesday with severe flu-like symptoms, Underwood said. Doctors made the meningitis diagnosis and the inmate was airlifted to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto, Underwood said.

As of late this morning, the inmate was listed in serious condition and his family has been notified of his illness, Underwood said.

"He was very sick," said Sue Cervantes, the Tuolumne County Health Department communicable disease coordinator. She said medical staff members who treated the inmate are being closely watched for any symptoms, as well.

How the bacteria got into the prison is not known, but all inmates and staff who could have been in contact with the man either in his dormitory, the cafeteria or outdoor yard have received antibiotics as a precaution.

Another inmate with flu-like symptoms who might also have meningitis is being treated at the same hospital.

Starting at 8 a.m. today, about 3,000 inmates housed in the Copperopolis-area prison's main gymnasium, where the ill inmate lived, and two outside yards to which the inmate had access, were given the first of three doses of Ciprofloxicin, a powerful antibiotic.

Inmates and officers in the higher-security Level III yard were not exposed, Underwood said.

The drug needs to be given twice a day for three days, and medical and correctional staff made sure inmates swallowed the first and most important dose this morning, Underwood said.

The 56 correctional officers on all three watches who might have been near the inmate since Dec. 1 were also given Ciprofloxicin.