At least seven inmates from the Special Management Unit 1 of the Arizona State Prison Complex Eyman in Florence are currently being treated in intensive care for what officials suspect is botulism, according to a Pinal County news release Nov. 26.
When the hospital where they are admitted produces preliminary confirmation of botulism poisoning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will release botulism anti-toxin to treat the affected prisoners.
According to County and State Health and Corrections authorities, the seven inmates are suspected of contracting the potentially deadly toxin from contraband prisoner-made alcohol known as “hooch” or “pruno”, although this has not yet been confirmed.
Pruno, or prison wine, is an alcoholic liquid variously made from apples, oranges, fruit cocktail, ketchup, sugar, and possibly other ingredients, including crumbled bread. Bread supposedly provides the yeast for the pruno to ferment.
The concoction can be made using only a plastic bag, hot running water, and a towel or sock to conceal the pulp during fermentation.
Pinal County Public Health Officials are working with the Department of Corrections and Arizona Department of Health Services on a cooperative investigation, which includes:
- Isolating and eliminating the source of the botulism.
- Determining if any other prisoners are affected.
- Prison officials are closely monitoring the health of inmates in the same pod.
Last October, a similar situation occurred at the Utah State Prison in Salt Lake County, Utah, where eight inmates contracted botulism after consuming pruno.
According to the investigation of that case, a baked potato saved from a meal served weeks earlier and added to the pruno was the suspected source of C. botulinum spores.
All eight inmates in that case survived, although several required prolong hospitalizations, even requiring mechanical ventilation.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine says Clostridium botulinum is found in soil and untreated water throughout the world. It produces spores that survive in improperly preserved or canned food, where they produce toxin. When eaten, even tiny amounts of this toxin can lead to severe poisoning.
The foods most commonly contaminated are home-canned vegetables, cured pork and ham, smoked or raw fish, and honey or corn syrup. Botulism may also occur if the bacteria enter open wounds and produce toxins there.
Infant botulism occurs when a baby eats spores and the bacteria grow in the baby’s gastrointestinal tract. The most common cause of infant botulism is eating honey or corn syrup.
About 110 cases of botulism occur in the U.S. per year. Most of the cases are in infants.
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