Pollsmoor diphtheria under control, says DCS

The Department of Correctional Services says the diphtheria outbreak at Pollsmoor prison, which claimed the life of 19-year-old inmate last week, is under control. At a press conference on Monday, from left, are Pollsmoor’s acting area commissioner Eric Mfenqe, Western Cape regional commissioner Delekile Klaas, national commissioner Makgothi Thobakgale and deputy commissioner for health Mirriam Mabe. Picture: Janice Matthews

The diphtheria outbreak at Pollsmoor prison, which claimed the life of a 19-year-old inmate last week, is under control, says the Department of Correctional Services (DCS).

There have been eight laboratory-confirmed cases at the prison.

DCS national commissioner Makgothi Thobakgale told a Monday press conference that the department was taking steps to contain the spread of the disease.

“We are leaving nothing to chance, health education efforts to inform inmates, DCS officials and service providers about the symptoms of diphtheria, the importance of vaccination, and preventive measures are being amplified. Our health-care team is vigilant in monitoring the situation, and the infection prevention measures are for every individual in the correctional facility to follow through.”

According to Mr Thobakgale, the inmate who died was incarcerated as a remand detainee in December last year in the B-Section of Pollsmoor’s Medium A prison. He appeared in court on Tuesday October 17 and was transported back to the facility.

When he showed signs of illness, he was initially treated at the prison but then transferred to an outside hospital. He was transferred to Victoria Hospital on Saturday October 28 where it was confirmed on Thursday November 2 that he had diphtheria.

His condition deteriorated and he died three days later at Groote Schuur Hospital.

Following the diagnosis, the DCS traced and isolated 54 other remand detainees who had come into contact with the sick prisoner. Eight of them had tested positive for diphtheria, said Mr Thobakgale.

“We have 15 correctional services officials that were identified as contacts, with only three presenting symptoms. They were tested and released to isolate at home. The provisional results have since came back negative, awaiting confirmatory results,” he said.

Meanwhile, a provincial health department disease outbreak team is working with the DCS on a vaccination campaign in the affected section of the prison.

Diphtheria is an uncommon but vaccine-preventable serious infection caused by a toxin-producing bacterium, Corynebacterium diphtheria. The toxin may lead to difficulty in breathing, heart rhythm problems and even death. The bacteria spreads from person to person, usually through respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing. Symptoms include sore throat, with the formation of a membrane on the tonsil and throat, and swollen glands in the front of the neck.

Mr Thobakgale said 342 inmates and 36 prison officials had received diphtheria vaccinations; enhanced hygiene was being encouraged and facilities had been deep cleaned.

Direct contacts were isolating, and inmates and staff were being subjected to regular health screenings to detect symptoms early.

“Our health-care professionals are readily available, and they are treating affected inmates. Appropriate medical treatment is also being offered. The Department of Health is also working closely with us in this regard thus ensuring a comprehensive response plan,” Mr Thobakgale said.

A provincial health department disease outbreak team is working with the Department of Correctional Services on a vaccination campaign in the affected section of the prison. Picture: Janice Matthews