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Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Utah State Prison guard Matt Shebilske unlocks handcuffs on an inmate in the infirmary and wears a mask to avoid swine flu Thursday.

A Utah State Prison unit is under quarantine after six inmates were suspected of having the novel H1N1 influenza, otherwise known as swine flu.

On Wednesday, an inmate being processed into the prison was coughing, running a fever and suffering aches and pains. The staff, on the lookout for novel H1N1 influenza, immediately brought him into the infirmary for tests, said prison spokeswoman Angie Welling. He has remained in the infirmary since then.

Two more inmates who had been in the prison since 2008 approached guards the same evening and complained about their own flulike symptoms. The inmates said they had been coughing and feeling ill for the past three days, Welling said.

They have been tested for the virus, as well. The three test results are expected within five days. At this point, no inmate or prison staff member has been confirmed as having the virus.

Three more inmates at the prison also are suspected of having the virus and are being secluded from the rest of their 50-bed dormitory unit to prevent an outbreak, Welling said. Four of the six inmates tested or suspected of being ill are from the same dormitory. The processed inmate never arrived in the dormitory. A sixth inmate suspected of having the virus is from a different section of the prison, but tests later confirmed he did not have the H1N1 virus.

All six inmates isolated either to the infirmary or their beds are under constant medical watch. The rest of the inmates from the same dormitory unit, who have had close contact with the isolated ones, have been quarantined from the rest of the prison. Visitations and therapy sessions are canceled, and the dormitory-unit inmates are not allowed to participate in outside recreation with the prison's other 350 inmates, according to Welling.

An inmate at the Central Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison, who was transferred there two days ago from the state prison, has also exhibited flu-like symptoms. He has been isolated until tests can confirm whether he has the novel H1N1 influenza.

The virus has a 43 percent transmission rate within a household, according to the Utah Department of Health. Since the Utah State Prison dormitory unit is basically a household of 50, and the isolated prison community is a unit of 400, the prison staff is doing everything it can to minimize the spread of the illness, Welling said.

She could not confirm if any of the sick inmates have had any recent visitors. Corrections officials are working closely with the state and county health departments to identify how the virus would find its way inside the prisons.

The prison staff had been prepared for the possibility that the virus could break out at the prison. Officers and medical staff who have contact with possibly infected inmates must wear masks at all times, and any staff members who feel sick are instructed to stay home, Welling said.

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