County jail ramping up efforts on H1N1 fluTaking steps to prevent the spread of seasonal or H1N1 flu at the Goodhue County Adult Detention Center is nothing new for the staff, Jail Administrator Capt. Brian Coleman said.
By: Ruth Nerhaugen, The Republican Eagle
Taking steps to prevent the spread of seasonal or H1N1 flu at the Goodhue County Adult Detention Center is nothing new for the staff, Jail Administrator Capt. Brian Coleman said.
"We've always had policies in place," he said.
In addition, the jail is designed with the ability not only to separate any detainees with communicable illnesses, but also to vent the air from those units outdoors rather than recirculating it so other people have to breathe it.
Right now, there are no detainees with flu, Coleman said, although he had three or four employees out with flu symptoms early this week.
Dakota County Jail reportedly has an outbreak, but officials make sure that any individuals who are sent to the Goodhue County jail to be boarded are not sick.
Detainees are screened as they are booked into the jail to avoid any possibility of cross-contamination.
"Staff is trained to recognize communicable or contagious" illnesses, Coleman said.
Tuberculosis is another health issue they are on the alert to identify, he noted.
"We have units where we can separate people out and isolate them if they have flu symptoms," Coleman said. Those individuals are kept contained, and staff is able to take precautions such as wearing masks and other protective gear.
Four single-person units, an intake room and one larger space all have "negative air flow," he said, and vent air outside.
The jail keeps a full assortment of supplies on hand at all times, Coleman said, and it contracts with the Goodhue County Public Health Service to staff a medical unit.
"Nursing staff is on duty Monday through Friday," he said, plus a doctor spends four hours a week at the jail and is on-call at other times.
Among other duties, nurses educate staff and detainees on how to deal with hygiene-related actions such as properly washing your hands and covering a cough or sneeze. Signs are posted to reinforce the lessons.
"We have all age groups, from teenagers to senior citizens," Coleman pointed out. "It is a diverse population."
However, he pointed out, the jail has a high rate of turnover. Detainees could be there just long enough to contaminate others, then move on. People can be contagious before showing signs of illness.
At the jail, what most concerns Coleman is the group visitation area, which may see 50 to 60 people in an evening -- all sharing telephones to talk with detainees.
"Maybe 10 people will use the same phone," he noted.
That's the most likely place for influenza to spread, he said, so prevention efforts have been "ramped up."
Everyone who comes is given two sanitary wipes and told to wipe down the phone before and after using it.
The Minnesota Correctional Facility-Red Wing also has protocols in place for dealing with H1N1 and seasonal flu. According to state Corrections Department Communications Director Shari Burt, the system is following all the guidelines and directions from the Centers for Disease Control through the Minnesota Department of Health.
What kind of flu?
Recommendations from the Minnesota Department of Health for jails and prisons refer to the term influenza-like illness. This is defined as a fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or greater and a cough or sore throat.
Other symptoms that may occur with influenza include runny nose, headache and body aches. With novel H1N1 influenza symptoms sometimes include vomiting and diarrhea.
Generally, testing is done only if someone is hospitalized, state officials noted, so it is likely that many people will have influenza without confirmation by laboratory testing.
Influenza primarily spreads when a person with the flu coughs or sneezes.
A person is communicable -infectious and can transmit flu - from the day before symptoms show up until 10 days after the illness began.