Norovirus Spreads Through Prison – Sickens Over 100 Inmates

Inmates housed in an Illinois prison received an unwelcome Christmas present in the form of the Norovirus. About 140 inmates at the Stateville Correctional Center came down with flu-like symptoms beginning Christmas day.

The virus spread through the population so quickly that dozens of prisoners were becoming ill at the same time. In order to attempt to slow the pace of the rapidly spreading virus, authorities quarantined the sick prisoners from the rest of the prison population.

Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections in Illinois, states, “The Department of Corrections and the Department of Public Health have already started working on outbreak and control efforts.”

The Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois, is a maximum security facility which holds approximately 3,000 male inmates.

Norovirus is Common Cause of Gastroenteritis Outbreaks

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) (, the Norovirus family contributes to over half of the known and reported outbreaks of gastroenteritis. The Norovirus is most likely to strike in the colder months, with 80% of outbreaks occurring during the months from November to April.

The virus produces symptoms which can mimic the flu or food poisoning. Generally, victims begin to show symptoms 24 to 48 hours after they have been exposed to the virus. However, in some cases symptoms can appear more quickly. Symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain

The illness usually resolves itself rather quickly. However it is important for victims to avoid dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids. People can reduce their exposure by limiting contact with infected persons and taking steps such as washing hands more frequently.

The Norovirus is a foodborne and waterborne contaminant transmitted through fecal matter that can be spread easily from person to person. It is notorious for spreading quickly and easily through enclosed environments such as prisons, schools, cruise ships, and nursing homes or hospitals, where people are in close contact for long periods of time, sharing dining and restroom facilities.

No one is immune to the Norovirus. Outbreaks can affect people of all ages and in a variety of settings. The Norovirus is spread by contact with an infected person or by touching an item with the virus on it. To make matters more difficult, Norovirus can remain active on surfaces for several hours and can be resistant to several common disinfectants.

Nevertheless, the Illinois prison is taking steps to disinfect all units and to attempt to find the source of the outbreak. Officials have sent samples from infected inmates to the state health lab for further testing.