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— Neither the Benton County Jail nor the Washington County Detention Center has had any cases of H1N1, authorities said last week.

Jails pose special risks and considerations related to the virus because of their environments, according to correctional facility guidelines written by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus is thought to spread the same way as the seasonal flu: person toperson through coughing or sneezing by those carrying it, according to the centers. It’s possible to become infected by touching something with the virus on it and then touching one’s mouth or nose.

Benton County Jail officials strive to keep the facility clean, Maj. Gene Drake said. Standard cleaning procedures have continued in the face of the flu outbreak. Inmates clean cells and common areas every day. They sweep, mop and disinfect.

Inmates usually disinfectdoor handles, even in the sheriff’s administrative offices, but they’ve done so more than usual lately, Drake said.

The jail’s staff includes two nurses and a doctor who visits the jail.

“We want to keep them healthy because we have to be back there working with them and we want to be healthy,” Drake said. “It all works together.”

If an inmate had H1N1, jail officials would treat it the same as any other contagious disease, said Don Townsend, chief deputy. Theinmate would be isolated from the rest of the jail population until receiving proper medical attention.

The Washington County Detention Center allows inmates to clean common areas three to four times a day, Lt. Anthony Foster said.

“You’ve got people in close contact all day,” he said. “Just so that people don’t have to live in a nasty area, we provide them with cleaning supplies.”

Detention center officials contacted the Health Department in the spring when the H1N1 threat became apparent. Health Department workers inspected the facility and said officials were already taking all possible precautions, Foster said.

Their only recommendation was to make hand sanitizer more readily available, and detention center officials complied, he said.

The center staff includes three nurses and a doctor who comes by weekly.

Federal money is paying for an H1N1 vaccine. The Arkansas Department of Health is responsible for dispersing the state’s share. Thevaccine’s administration is restricted to high priority groups until an adequate supply is available for the general public, said James Phillips, branch chief of infectious disease for the department.

If an inmate falls into one of the priority groups, such as a pregnant woman, department officials want them to get vaccinated, Phillips said.

“Prisoners are treated the same as the rest of the population,” he said. “They get in line depending on what priority group they’re in.”

News, Pages 12 on 11/11/2009

Print Headline: Authorities: County jails free of H1N1 virus

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