Kansas prisoner may have infected scores of others with tuberculosis

Friday, August 20th 2004, 8:28 pm
By: News On 6

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ An inmate passed through three county jails and a state prison before officials diagnosed him with tuberculosis, possibly infecting nearly 50 other people, according to a report released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At least 47 people who had contact with the infected prisoner in 2002 tested positive for the disease, the report said.

Officials cannot confirm that those who tested positive were infected by the inmate, but they are using the case to urge states to adopt tighter controls on sick prisoners.

``I think the thing to take away from this is that there were some mistakes made, but there were also some important lessons learned, and the situation has greatly improved,'' said Phil Griffin, director of the Kansas Tuberculosis Control Program.

In January 2002, the 36-year-old man turned himself in on a warrant. He spent three days in one jail and seven weeks in a second jail, where medical personnel diagnosed his condition as asthma.

He got out of jail in March 2002 but was arrested again in June and bounced between two jails, neither of which looked into his condition.

In August 2002, he was sent to the state prison, where he spent at least six weeks among the general population before medical personnel determined he suffered from tuberculosis.

Officials said they tested 256 people, finding 47 infected with the disease, including two inmates who shared a cell with the infected man.

State Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Miskell said the department has tightened its screening of new inmates and increased training for medical personnel. Two prisoners in Kansas have been diagnosed with tuberculosis since the incident, but officials said this week that both cases were caught early and did not require extensive testing of prior contacts.

Tuberculosis, at one time a virtual death sentence, is now easily treated with a six- to nine-month regimen of medicines.