Research – Notes from the Field: Botulism Outbreak from Drinking Prison-Made Illicit Alcohol in a Federal Correctional Facility — Mississippi, June 2016

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On June 9, 2016, the Mississippi Poison Control Center and the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) notified CDC of five suspected cases of botulism, a potentially fatal neuroparalytic illness (1), in inmates at a medium-security federal correctional institution (prison A). By June 10, a total of 13 inmates were hospitalized, including 12 in Mississippi and one in Oklahoma (the inmate in Oklahoma had been transferred there after his exposure for reasons unrelated to his illness). MSDH, Oklahoma State Department of Health, Bureau of Prisons, and CDC conducted an investigation to identify the source and scope of the outbreak, and to develop recommendations.

Prison A staff members suspected that an alcoholic beverage, illicitly made by inmates and known as “hooch” or “pruno,” was the source of the outbreak. Among 33 inmates who reported consuming hooch during June 1–19, 2016, a total of 31 (94%) had signs or symptoms suggesting botulism. The median interval from first exposure to symptom onset was 3 days (range = 0–11 days) (Figure). Cases were categorized using modified Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists definitions. A confirmed case was defined as an illness in an inmate consistent with botulism that began on or after June 1, with botulinum toxin type A detected in a serum or stool specimen or Clostridium botulinum cultured from a stool specimen; a probable case was defined as an illness in an inmate with signs or symptoms of any cranial nerve palsy and extremity weakness that began on or after June 1; and a suspected case was an illness in an inmate with signs or symptoms of any cranial nerve palsy without extremity weakness that began on or after June 1.

Thirty-one cases were identified, all in men, including 19 confirmed cases (18 in Mississippi and one in Oklahoma), 10 probable cases (nine in Mississippi and one in Texas), and two suspected cases in Mississippi. Patients from Texas and Oklahoma were transferred from prison A to other prisons before their illness began as part of routine inmate transfers.

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