MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A corrections officer has died and an inmate is ill at a Muskegon prison, both victims of meningitis.
“It’s a very sad day at the (Earnest C.) Brooks Correctional Facility. We did lose an officer on Monday to a case of bacterial meningitis,” said Michigan Department of Corrections spokesperson Chris Gautz, who spoke to 24 Hour News 8 by phone from his office in Lansing.
The officer has not been identified, but MDOC says he was a 20-year veteran of the Muskegon prison.
“We met with some of the staff today and we heard stories about him and how much he was beloved and respected among the staff. The staff are taking it very hard. This has been a difficult day,” Gautz said.
In the same unit where the officer worked, an inmate had previously come down with the bacterial infection. That prisoner recovered, is in a prison hospital and is expected to do fine, Gautz said.
It has not yet been determined if the two cases are related, though both started as streptococcus pneumoniae, which in rare cases can morph into meningitis.
“If you were to come into contact with somebody that had this, you wouldn’t necessarily become sick because your immune system was strong,” Gautz said.
This type of meningitis is present in 80 to 90 percent of people, according to health experts, but many people carry it without actually getting sick. It usually shows up as an ear infection, strep throat or pneumonia.
The department is doing all it can to keep anyone else from contracting the illness, even if that means just making people feel more secure by doing things that are actually ineffectual, like washing areas with bleach and supplying masks.
“We have done cleanings of the units, we have made masks available to staff and prisoners, if they wish to wear them, but we’ve also reiterated to them that it really doesn’t protect them from getting it,” Gautz said. “If wearing a mask reduces your stress levels because you think it’s going to keep you from getting it, it doesn’t hurt anything and it may help you keep your stress levels down and keep your immune system strong, which means you won’t get it.”
The most effective prevention method is to get vaccinated.
At this point, officials believe the outbreak is limited to these two people at the prison and there is no cause for concern for the general public.