ST. LOUIS -- As the fear of an impending avian flu pandemic is compelling hospitals, businesses and cities to develop preparedness plans, one of the most potentially dangerous breeding grounds of disease is woefully ill-prepared for a crisis, according to a new study being presented today by researchers at Saint Louis University.
"There's a real failure to recognize how important the health status of inmates is to the public health of all of us," says Rachel Schwartz, Ph.D., a researcher at the Institute for Biosecurity at Saint Louis University School of Public Health. "Nearly 85 percent of those in jails and prisons will be released within a year. So even if we as a society don't think protecting them from disease is a priority, prisoners released into the general population pose a real threat to society."
The research is being presented today at the Correctional Medicine Institute's 2006 Conference in Baltimore.
There are more than two million prisoners in the United States, making up what Schwartz calls "a highly vulnerable population."
"There's a much higher level of disease among prisoners people with HIV, drug-resistant tuberculosis, hepatitis C and other diseases," she says.
She adds that 80 percent of inmates come to prison with some sort of illness.
"And once they're incarcerated, they're more likely to get other diseases. It makes correctional facilities into ticking time bombs. Many people crowded together, often suffering from diseases that weaken their immune systems, form a potential breeding ground and reservoir for diseases."
Schwartz and fellow researchers studied research and protocols from the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and other governments to identify what plans were in place for prisons should an infectious disease break out.