ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Otero County Prison is getting help from the New Mexico Department of Health to prevent a large-scale outbreak of chickenpox after two inmates tested positive for the highly contagious viral infection on Friday.
“We are working closely with epidemiologists at NMDOH to contain the spread of chickenpox in the facility,” Secretary of Corrections David Jablonski said in a statement released Tuesday. “Our goal is to protect the health of inmates and prison staff so that spread of the disease can be limited and complications can be avoided.”
The men’s facility in Chaparral currently houses 617 state and federal inmates. After two inmates tested positive, the prison “offered blood tests” to 125 men in two units to determine who is immune.
“Inmates without evidence of immunity will be quarantined in order to assure that anyone who does develop chickenpox doesn’t expose other people living or working in the facility,” according to the statement released by the New Mexico Department of Corrections.
But the wife of one inmate, Rosa Fausnaught, said the men were only told there was a health concern and not given specifics about why they should get a blood test.
“They should explain to the inmates what’s going on. You’re placing the whole family in jeopardy,” Fausnaught said in a phone interview.
She said her husband and a few other inmates refused to have their blood drawn because they were not told about the chickenpox cases and were threatened with solitary confinement if they didn’t comply.
“They should have the right to deny the blood test if they’re not giving them the reason,” Fausnaught said.
She said the inmates were informed about alternative proof Tuesday when the Health Department began investigating the chickenpox cases.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections in an email said proof of immunity includes vaccine records but did not respond to a question about whether the men were initially given alternatives to a blood test.
The prison is also checking staff to see who is immune to chickenpox.