According to news reports, an outbreak of illness at the Cass County Jail in North Dakota has sickened more than 100 inmates. People started reporting illness symptoms such as upset stomachs and diarrhea last night. Now, 110 of the 282 inmates have the same symptoms. In addition, two visitors to the jail have reported feeling sick.
All of the inmates have been treated on site. No one has been hospitalized and no patient is getting worse. No inmates have been quarantined as a result of this outbreak.
This is most likely another norovirus outbreak similar to the one that sickened more than 14o people at Boston College last week. Norovirus symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The illnesses could also be caused by Clostridium perfringens, a bacteria that causes similar symptoms. Clostridium perfringens is commonly found on raw meat and poultry, and causes illness when food is not held at safe temperatures.
The Cass County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the outbreak along with the Fargo Cass Public Health Department and the North Dakota Department of Corrections. The kitchen jail has been inspected and samples were taken to be tested.
Health officials are waiting for stool sample results, which will pinpoint the pathogen that caused the illnesses. This facility had a similar outbreak in 2011, when 90% of inmates were sickened with similar symptoms. Stool samples at that time were positive for Clostridium perfringens.
Norovirus is a very contagious illness that usually increases during cold weather months, when more people are inside together. The illness will spread rapidly through areas where there are concentrations of people, such as jails, nursing homes, and schools.
To prevent the spread of norovirus, always wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom, after changing diapers, and after caring for someone who is sick. Always wash your hands with soap and water before preparing or handling food for others. Anyone who is sick, especially with a diarrheal illness, should not prepare or handle food for others.