The swine flu outbreak spread from city schools to jails with the hospitalization of a Rikers Island inmate Saturday, prompting the jail to cancel weekend visits for some inmates and dole out hand sanitizers and surgical masks.
The city Department of Correction said that the flu hadn't spread to other prisoners in the 13,200-inmate system. But a correction officers' union head called for the city to close the jail where the inmate became ill and clean it just like the public schools shuttered in a flare-up of the virus.
"The entire facility needs to be decontaminated ... just like any other facility under the watch of the mayor,'' said Norman Seabrook, president of the Corrections' Officers Benevolent Association.
Six schools were closed this week after hundreds of students there became ill with suspected swine flu symptoms. Five confirmed cases were at an intermediate school in Queens, including an assistant principal who remained critically ill Saturday. A family member said Mitchell Wiener was improving slightly.
Health officials have said they would track other schools with high absence rates. A spokesman for the United Federation of Teachers, Ron Davis, said it received reports from 18 other schools of high student absences and had forwarded the information to the city health department.
The Rikers Island inmate -- whose name or reason for being in custody wasn't released -- was improving since his hospitalization on Wednesday and wasn't in serious condition, Correction Department spokesman Stephen Morello said.
The inmate entered the 2,600-inmate Anna M. Kross Center about a month ago and complained of cough and fever on Wednesday, he said. He was transferred to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens and on Friday was diagnosed with a probable case of swine flu, Morello said.
Morello said the inmate only came into contact with about 70 other prisoners in two housing units at the center, all had been examined and none came down with the flu.
The jail canceled weekend visits for those inmates and advised any other inmates' family members who were feeling ill not to come, he said. Surgical masks were passed out to those inmates and officers on the two housing units; hand sanitizer was given to everyone in the jails, he said.
"We are acting with an abundance of caution,'' Morello said. "We continue to be on the lookout'' for new flu cases.
Seabrook said the inmate was in the general population who can obtain passes to go to the jail's barber shop, commissary, law library and recreation yards. He said the inmate could have passed the virus to hundreds of others.
"He's standing next to inmates, next to other officers. Those people then become infected,'' Seabrook said.
New York City's first outbreak of swine flu occurred about three weeks ago when over 1,000 teenagers at a Roman Catholic high school in Queens began falling ill following the return of several students from vacations in Mexico, where the outbreak began.