Inmate at facility in Decatur diagnosed with tuberculosis

Jan. 21—An inmate assigned to the North Alabama Community-Based Facility/Community Work Center in Decatur has an active case of tuberculosis, the Alabama Department of Corrections said Thursday.

The diagnosis was made "while the inmate was receiving outside care at a local area hospital. Upon his discharge from the hospital, the inmate was placed in a negative airflow isolation cell in an infirmary at another ADOC facility," according to an email from department spokesperson Kristi Simpson.

She said "he was not on a work release assignment in the community."

The inmate had recently been moved from Staton Correctional Facility in Elmore to the Decatur facility, according to ADOC, so all inmates in both facilities are being tested for the disease. Staff at both facilities are also being offered onsite TB tests.

"To ensure all appropriate follow-ups to the testing process are completed, the ADOC has restricted movement in and out of both North Alabama CBF/CWC and Staton," according to Simpson. "We will continue this prescribed process, working closely with ADPH, to protect the health and safety of those who live and work at these facilities."

Claire Payne, TB director for the Alabama Department of Public Health, said transmission of the bacteria that causes TB is a particular concern in congregate settings like correctional facilities.

"TB is an airborne germ that's passed on through the air from person to person. When you find somebody with tuberculosis, you want to check out who may have been in contact with them just to see if they may have been exposed and picked up the germs," Payne said. "If it's not treated it can be deadly."

She said the disease is curable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, typical courses of treatment take up to nine months.

According to ADPH data, there were 75 reported TB cases in Alabama in 2020. Payne said that number was unusually low, but cases have generally dropped over the last five years. In 2010, the state reported 146 cases.

"Maybe we are controlling TB in communities," she said, through aggressive contact tracing and testing, "but it is still here."

Nationally there were 7,174 TB cases reported in 2020, the most recent data available, including 179 who were inmates in correctional facilities, according to the CDC. Worldwide, 1.5 million people died of TB in 2020, according to the World Health Organization.

Symptoms of TB include a bad cough that lasts three weeks or longer, pain in the chest and coughing up blood or phlegm from deep inside the lungs, according to the CDC. Fatigue, weight loss, chills and fever are also common symptoms.

Tuberculosis, once called consumption or "the white plague" due to the pale skin of those infected, was far more deadly in the past. In the late 1800s, according to the CDC, 1 in 7 people living in the U.S. and Europe died of the disease. or 256-340-2435. Twitter @DD_Fleischauer.