Inmate with Hepatitis A claims Carter Co. jail didn’t do enough to prevent spread of disease

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CARTER COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL)-A Carter County inmate recently diagnosed with Hepatitis A claims the jail didn’t do enough to prevent the spread of disease.

This comes as the state of Tennessee is fighting an increase in cases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tennessee has the fourth-highest rate of Hepatitis A in the country, with nearly 26 hundred confirmed cases and 22 deaths since December 2017.

The disease, which causes inflammation of the liver, is generally spread through close contact with infected persons or the consumption of food or water contaminated with fecal matter.

Drug users and homeless individuals are known to be high-risk groups for Hepatitis A, making regular vaccinations in jails critical to prevent the disease from spreading throughout a community.

John Hudson, 44, said he contracted Hepatitis A at the Carter County Detention Center.

“I don’t want this to happen to nobody else. I’m not trying to get in no lawsuit. I’m not trying to get out of jail. I just want them to give more medical attention,” he told News Channel 11 in a phone call on October 6.

Medical records show, on October 2, Hudson was admitted to Sycamore Shoals Hospital in Elizabethton after a jail physician received lab test results from a sick call on September 30.

Hudson was diagnosed with Hepatitis A, B and C, according to medical records.

Northeast Regional Health Office Medical Director David Kirschke said inmates who have been diagnosed with Hepatitis A should be isolated to prevent the disease from spreading.

Hudson said that’s not what happened when he returned to the jail on October 4.

“Their words to me when I said I need to be quarantined were ‘Hudson you’re not getting a cell by yourself. You’re going upstairs,'” he said.

Thomas Gray, public information officer for the Carter County Sheriff’s Department, said in a statement that the inmate diagnosed “remains in isolation.”

He said no further cases have been reported.

Casie Smith said her husband was housed in the same pod as Hudson before and after his diagnosis.

“The guy had had open sores underneath his arms,” she said. “They share water and food. Also, there are not enough bunks to house the people in there. There’s supposed to be around 22 people in the area that they’re in and there’s anywhere from 35 to 48.”

News Channel 11 spoke to Hudson and Smith’s husband, who asked to remain anonymous, on the same phone call October 6.

Smith said Hudson has since been moved to isolation.

Smith said she first reached out to the health department and the sheriff’s department more than a month ago about vaccinating her husband.

“Their response was way too slow. It took me contacting you [News Channel 11] honestly for them…to even go out there,” Smith said.

News Channel 11 reached out to both parties about Smith’s concerns on October 9.

On October 10, about a week after Hudson’s diagnosis, Gray said the health department offered voluntary vaccinations to all inmates and officers.

When asked why the response took several days, Kirschke said, “So we go in as soon as possible after we hear about it. Sometimes there’s some logistical stuff like our vaccination team might already be vaccinating at another jail.”

Gray said the sheriff’s department first contacted the health department on October 8.

The health department wouldn’t confirm this, saying they couldn’t release case-specific details, including how many inmates were vaccinated.

Kirschke said state law requires the health department to be contacted “immediately” after a case is confirmed. In other words, he said the department should get a call as soon as a lab test comes back positive.

Kirschke said vaccinations are effective if administered within two weeks of exposure.

“You can infect other people for two weeks before you start showing symptoms so that’s one of the reasons Hepatitis A is so difficult to contain,” he said.

According to medical records, Hudson reported experiencing several symptoms of Hepatitis A three weeks before his hospital visit, including “rust-colored urine,” nausea, “not being able to eat,” and feeling like he was being “punched in the gut.”

“It’s not fair to subject them to diseases like this to bring home to everyone else,” said Smith.

Below is the full statement sent to News Channel 11 by the sheriff’s department:

After an inmate displayed symptoms of Hepatitis A, the Carter County Jail immediately transported him to the hospital for treatment. The Health Department was immediately contacted and they promptly sent staff to the jail to offer Hepatitis A vaccinations to all inmates and corrections officers. The inmate was treated and released from the hospital and remains in isolation.  No further cases have been reported.
 
Any claims that vaccinations have not been made available to our inmates are simply untrue.  The Carter County Jail also regularly offers Hepatitis A vaccinations to inmates every other month.

Carter County Sheriff’s Department PIO Thomas Gray

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