Trending Topics

Stopping swine flu before it starts


(AP photo)

By Luke Whyte

At this year’s ACA summer conference, all three speakers in workshop “Managing seasonal influenza in the correctional setting” said something about your grandmother.

“It’s what grandma harked on,” said Dr. Kenneth Castro of the National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention. “Wash your hands and avoid coughing people.”

They said it, because for all the talk of vaccines, quarantine and anti-viral medication, the first steps all institutions should be taking toward the prevention of a swine flu outbreak this year are as simple as using a Kleenex.

Listen to your mother
It’s imperative that all staff and inmates maintain the upmost of personal hygiene as we approach the upcoming flu season, Castro said.

This includes remembering those common sense practices we sometimes forget. Wash your hands before you eat. Stock up on anti-bacterial wipes and hand gels. Cover your mouth when you cough and get good rest.

Furthermore, said members of the panel, facility staff must set an example for inmates, and inmates need to be educated on the importance of these practices.

Get creative
Newton Kendig, Medical Director for the FBOP, sited a couple creative ideas implemented by FBOP wardens during the Spring H1N1 outbreak.

“Realizing that nearly all the inmates touch a single door knob when they enter the dining hall,” Kendig said. “One warden paid an inmate to hold the door open.”

It’s a simple yet extremely effective strategy: If one person holds the door while a rush of people enter, transmission of bacteria through the handle is significantly reduced.

Kendig referenced another warden who asked several inmates to read hand-outs on good hand hygiene to everyone else — a simple but effective method for increasing awareness.

“Communicate, communicate, communicate,” said Dr. Lester Wright, Chief Medical Officer with the Albany, NY Department of Correctional Services, “to both staff and inmates.”

It can’t be stressed enough that if someone feels sick, the right people need to know about it. Inmates and staff need to be regularly reminded of this.

Plan it out
“Think, don’t panic,” Wright said. “Turn your brain on.”

“Expect that a number of staff and inmates will have serious complications with influenza, even with relatively mild strains,” Dr. Kendig said.

Wright suggested administrators develop a “template plan rather than a disease-specific plan.” This will prepare them no matter how the disease manifests itself, during the current season and into the future.

“A plan must be updated, trained, and exercised,” Wright said. “Unify your objectives and display a clear message.”

“And remember,” Wright said, “health doesn’t always pay attention to the chain of command.”

Don’t be a tough guy
“This is not the time to feel guilt-ridden about staying home,” Castro said.

If you are sick, don’t come into work. Further, make sure you tell people what’s going on with you so that staff can get a profile of a potentially developing problem.

Don’t medicate, vaccinate
The speakers stressed that anti-viral drugs, like Tamiflu, should be used extremely sparingly. There is concern that strains of H1N1 are gaining resistance to Tamiflu. Thus they said, if we over use it, we run the risk of rendering it ineffective.

However, once a vaccine is made available, it is extremely important that people take it.

“Administrators have to do a sales job,” said Kendig, implying that it’s important that all staff and unions understand the importance of getting vaccinated against the flu this season.

“Don’t let a good crisis go to waste,” he said. “Get people taking these flu shots that they should have been taking anyway.”

Final thoughts
Cases of H1N1 have already been reported in all 50 states. Though nothing to panic about, it’s important we prepare for this flu season, stopping swine flu before it starts.

“This is not over,” said Castro. “You don’t want to wait until things go sour before you take steps.”

Up to date information on dealing with this year’s flu season can be found at

Correctional specific information is available at:

The team of editors and writers is committed to tracking down and reporting on the most important issues and interviews in the correctional field.