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Quarantine at County jail after stomach flu outbreak

Updated: March 8, 2013 7:33AM

A flu outbreak at a dorm in the Cook County jail housing about 700 inmates led Sheriff Tom Dart to quarantine an entire division Wednesday that holds nearly 2,000.

The quarantine barred visitors from the infected unit known as Division II, and sheriff spokesman Frank Bilecki said inmates were only allowed to go to court if they didn’t have flu symptoms and were not under medical surveillance.

He said about 30 to 40 inmates were sick with gastrointestinal symptoms.

“We haven’t seen a complete outbreak with staff,” Bilecki said, though he acknowledged a few workers have gotten ill.

Division II houses minimum- and some medium-security inmates, Bilecki said, and some of them participate in the jail’s work program. They work in the kitchen and help move meals. Bilecki said there’s no sign so far the virus has been spread through the meals.

He also said more medium-security inmates would be called on to do that work but that will require more security.

The Cook County jail has a capacity of a little over 10,000 inmates, Bilecki said. Division II’s capacity is just shy of 2,000, and Bilecki said 12 or 14 inmates were sick Monday night. That number grew to 24 Tuesday night and 30 by Wednesday morning.

Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said Chicago officials notified her agency of the outbreak. She said the state was working with the city and the jail to make sure infection-control practices were being followed.

Living, dining, shower, toilet and all “high-touch” surface areas like stairwell hand-rails were being disinfected, according to Bilecki and a news release from the sheriff. Linens have been changed and laundered separately.

Bilecki said inmates also could not be transferred to other divisions in the jail, which caused some headaches for the staff. He said the virus could survive for a couple of weeks.

“It’s still a lot of work for our people to not be able to make the moves that they want to and need to,” Bilecki said.

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