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Botulism From 'Pruno' Hits Arizona Prison

Well, it has happened again. Twice.

Inmates at a maximum security prison in Arizona were stricken with botulism after consuming homemade hooch that's called "pruno" inside the big house.

Eight inmates wound up in the hospital in November after drinking the stuff. In August, four prisoners at the same facility were hospitalized.

The symptoms of botulism include blurred vision, dry mouth and difficulty swallowing and breathing.

An account in the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report doesn't name the prison, but back in November it was identified as the Arizona State Prison Complex-Eyman in Florence.

Pruno is a foul brew made by prisoners with whatever they can find to fuel fermentation. Some fruit, a little water and sugar are usually enough to make alcohol-producing yeast happy in captivity.

Using starchy potatoes is a no-no, though. The tubers can harbor spores from the Clostridium botulinum bacteria that produce a paralyzing toxin.

Both Arizona outbreaks were tied to pruno made with potatoes, according to the MMWR report. That was also the case in another 2012 outbreak at a Utah prison.

Dr. Will Humble, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, blogged about the November outbreak and the inmates' pruno recipe:

For this batch, they put a baked potato in sealed, warm bottles and fermented it for several days- the perfect environment for producing botulism toxin. This prison brew (called pruno) is foul smelling and doesn't look much better either.

After the August cluster of cases, no special measures were taken to prevent botulism, the MMWR report says. After the second bunch of cases, the prison banned potatoes from the kitchen. There's talk about banning sugar and other sweets from the menu and the prison's store to curb pruno production, the report says.

But eliminating pruno won't be easy. "Pruno is widely used in correctional facilities throughout the country and is an ingrained part of prison culture," as the investigation of the Utah outbreak noted.

Education about the risks of botulism might help a little. But as long as there are incarcerated men with access to food rich in sugar or starch, pruno is likely to be on tap.

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