Inmates at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin sickened with norovirus

A norovirus outbreak at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin has sickened at least 14 inmates over the last week, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Wednesday. 

Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ray Kelly said nine inmates initially began experiencing nausea, diarrhea and stomach pains last Wednesday and were quickly isolated from the general population to prevent further exposures.

Another five inmates later became sick with the same symptoms and were also isolated from the rest of the jail population, sheriff’s officials said. 

Kelly said his office immediately alerted their medical services provider and the Alameda County Health Department about the outbreak. 

“When this thing happened we had to act quickly. We had to limit the exposure to staff and other inmates in the facility because this requires special treatment. That’s why we had to act quickly and move these inmates to a separate unit,’’ Kelly said. 

Sheriff’s officials said they determined the men had norovirus by testing stool samples. 

Norovirus is a highly contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. People of all ages can get infected and sick with norovirus by having direct contact with an infected person, consuming contaminated food or water or touching contaminated surfaces and then putting their unwashed hands in their mouth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Sheriff’s Cmdr. Tom Madigan said some of the 14 inmates, who have been symptom-free for at least three days and are feeling better, are being moved back to their original dormitories. 

“Each inmate is being very closely monitored,’’ Madigan said. 

To curb the spread and get infected inmates healthy again, visits to the sick inmates have been temporarily cancelled. What’s more, a specialized cleaning crew wearing masks and hazardous material suits have been cleaning the facility several times a day, and the inmates who were infected are also changing their clothes regularly, sheriff’s officials said.   

But that’s not what Danielle Bencivenni’s 39-year-old inmate boyfriend, who was infected, has told her. 

“He’s been in the same clothes and boxer shorts since last Wednesday,’’ Bencivenni said. “He’s been sick since last week, throwing up, and he had weakness and could barely stand up.” 

In fact, at one point, one of his fellow inmates called to say he was so sick he couldn’t make it to the phone to speak to her, she said. 

“It’s something that’s not healthy,’’ she said. “I’m talking for everybody who doesn’t have a voice"

Bencivenni’s boyfriend also told her that he had learned that the sickness may have been caused by maggots in the oven and on food racks. 

Madigan, however, said that is not true.

“We know for a fact that it is not maggots,’’ he said, adding that confusion may have been caused because some Navy beans in the jail had recently sprouted a tail. Eating sprouted Navy beans, however, is not said to cause illness. 

Madigan also pointed out that the jail provides meals for 2,100 inmates daily so if the food was contaminated more than 14 inmates would have likely been sickened. 

Sheriff’s officials said this is the first norovirus outbreak they have been at Santa Rita Jail in recent history.

Kelly said they will be working with the county health department to investigate the living conditions at local homeless encampments to make sure homeless people who are booked at the jail aren’t bringing sicknesses with them.

Kelly also offered his email to Bencivenni and said he would personally check on her boyfriend's current condition.