"The New York City jail system may be an important amplification point in the ongoing tuberculosis epidemic," wrote Dr. Eran Y. Bellin, the director of infectious disease control at Rikers Island.
His study was published early last month in the Journal of the Medical Association .
Bellin conducted his study among 2,636 inmates who tested negative for tuberculosis upon admission at Rikers over a one-year period. Follow-ups were conducted on all the inmates to determine if they contracted the disease after their jailing.
While the rate of tuberculosis infection among the general city population is about 50 per 100,000, the 1991 rate among the study group was 500 per 100,000, said Bellin. The study ran through 1992.
Inmates who spent one full year in Rikers were 2.2 times as likely to contract tuberculosis as those jailed for the average stay of 65 days, the study showed. Inmates above the age of 30 were 2.4 times as likely; inmates sent to the detoxification unit were 4.3 times as likely.
Bellin's study at Rikers Island confirmed health officials' concern about jails and tuberculosis contraction, the doctor said. The city had already taken steps to control the disease in its jail system based on early indicators, Bellin said.
"Instead of waiting for the data, we were working on this problem already," said Bellin.
The city's plan for combatting tuberculosis among inmates includes aggressive chest X-Ray screening, state-of-the-art techniques for identifying the disease, education and follow-up phone calls upon release, said Bellin.
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