State tests prison for TB after four inmates turn up positive

Posted: Wednesday, November 29, 2000

SOLDOTNA (AP) -- The state is testing every inmate and employee at the Spring Creek maximum-security prison in Seward for tuberculosis this week.

That came after a routine screening indicated four inmates carry the potentially fatal disease.

State health and prison officials are describing the testing as precautionary. They say there has been no TB outbreak at Spring Creek.

Bruce Richards, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections, said the four inmates who are infected do not actively have the disease and are not contagious.

Prisoners are routinely tested on their birthdays, but when four long-term inmates came up positive after being negative on their last birthdays, it led to concerns that someone inside the prison walls may be infectious, said Sue Anne Jenkerson, a nurse epidemiologist with the state Division of Public Health.

''There may be, or may have been, a source case, and that's why we do this follow-up screening,'' she told the Anchorage Daily News.

''There is no outbreak,'' Jenkerson said. ''We're assessing the situation to see if there hasn't been an outbreak and adequately treat anybody who would have been infected. We would just call this normal, routine screening.''

More than 700 people are at the prison -- 508 inmates and 206 employees.

TB is a bacteriological disease that most frequently attacks the lungs. It can lead to excessive and bloody coughing, night sweats, weight loss and fatigue. TB is an airborne disease, but it's curable with drugs.

It has been known to spread in places where people are congregated, such as prisons, hospitals, nursing homes and homeless shelters.

About a third of the world's population is said to be infected with TB, and some 3 million people a year die from it, according to federal statistics.

Yet people can be infected by the TB bacterium their entire lives without coming down with tuberculosis.

Fifty to 100 cases per year are reported in Alaska, Jenkerson said.

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