Inmates at a rural Tracy prison are on lockdown following the outbreak of a stomach virus that has swept through 10 percent of the prison's population.
Since the outbreak began Tuesday, Deuel Vocational Institution officials said they have documented 339 inmates and eight officers with symptoms of the virus.
"We have no idea how it got into the prison, and health officials said we may never know," DVI spokesman Lt. Mike Quaglia said.
The gastroenteritis virus - one that inflames the lining of the stomach and intestines - causes flu-like symptoms, which includes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The best treatment for the virus is to let it run its course, typically 48 hours, and keep patients from becoming dehydrated.
DVI officials have stopped taking in new prisoners and releasing any of their current population because of the outbreak.
In the last couple of days, similar outbreaks have been reported at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione and the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco.
"It's super-contagious," San Joaquin County Assistant Health Officer Dr. Dale Bishop said. "We've had reports up and down the West Coast."
The virus is passed from person-to-person or picked up from surfaces and objects that have been touched by an infected person. The virus can also temporarily become airborne after a patient vomits.
County health officials are monitoring the DVI outbreak and advising DVI officials on containment and testing of virus cultures.
The virus is considered to be common and cited as the cause of numerous illnesses that have appeared on cruise ships, Bishop said.
"Everyone should watch out for it and wash their hands frequently. Anyone involved in food preparation, health care or childcare should stay home three days after the symptoms appear."
Symptoms typically begin appearing 10 hours following infection.
DVI officials said they are seeing fewer inmates coming into the prison hospital with symptoms.
"It's a good sign. We may be getting the upper hand on it," Quaglia said.
Contact reporter Denise Ellen Rizzo at email@example.com.
First published: Friday, May 19, 2006