Botulism Outbreak Tied To Contaminated Prison Hooch | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

Botulism Outbreak Tied To Contaminated Prison Hooch

Behind bars, nothing says party quite like "pruno."

Pruno is a kind of homebrew made from whatever prisoners can get their hands on. Some fruit, a little water and sugar are usually enough to make alcohol-producing yeast happy.

But it seems a baked potato saved for weeks before it was added to a pruno batch last year at a Utah prison caused the second-largest botulism outbreak in the U.S. since 2006.

Eight men came down with botulism and were hospitalized. The sickened inmates all drank from the same batch of pruno. Symptoms included difficulty swallowing, vomiting, double vision and muscle weakness.

Three men had to be put on ventilators. All eight were treated with antitoxin.

Five other pruno-imbibing inmates who came forward didn't have botulism. Four of them drank from an uncontaminated batch, and one who tried the funky stuff spit it out.

Nearly a year after the Utah outbreak, most of the affected prisoners still reported health problems, such as muscle weakness, related to their bouts of botulism.

Botulism is caused by a toxin (sold for cosmetic and medical uses as Botox) produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria.

Details of the investigation into the outbreak were published in the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Utah Department of Corrections spokesman Steve Gehrke told the Deseret News last year that the contaminated pruno was concocted by at least one inmate using food served to him in his cell.

"A baked potato saved from a meal served weeks earlier and added to the pruno was the suspected source of C. botulinum spores," the public health investigators wrote in the MMWR this week. Those spores are common on root vegetables, including potatoes.

A hidden delight in the MMWR report is a reference to the now-defunct website The Black Table. Ahead of its time, the wryly written webzine (an old favorite of mine) published a pruno explainer in 2003 that included step-by-step instructions for making some. The recipe came from a poem by California inmate Jarvis Jay Masters.

The Black Table piece notes that pruno "tastes so putrid that even hardened prisoners gulp it down while holding their noses...." Yet, "they'll go to incredible lengths to to make it, whipping up batches from frosting, yams, raisins and damn near everything."

And even educating inmates about the threat of botulism from pruno probably won't deter them, the MMWR report notes, concluding, "pruno production in prisons likely will not stop."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Do Touch The Artwork At Prado's Exhibit For The Blind

The renowned Spanish museum has made 3-D copies of some of its most iconic works to allow blind people to feel them.
NPR

How Dangerous Is Powdered Alcohol?

Last month, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau approved a powdered alcohol product, making both parents and lawmakers nervous. Some states have already banned powdered alcohol. NPR's Arun Rath speaks with Brent Roth of Wired, who made his own powdered concoction and put it to the test.
NPR

With New Look And More Energy, Rick Perry Tries To Move Past 'Oops'

Do the glasses make the man? Four years ago, then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry's presidential run was derailed by one word — oops. He admits now he wasn't healthy then, and he's trying to make up for it.
NPR

With Live Video Apps Like Periscope, Life Becomes Even Less Private

Video cameras are everywhere — from those in smartphones to security cams. And just when you thought it couldn't get harder to hide, live-streaming video apps are raising new questions about privacy.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.