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Influenza cases at four Michigan prisons have led officials to suspend visitations, while some units at one of them are under quarantine, a Michigan Department of Corrections spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Visiting hours are suspended at the St. Louis Correctional Facility in Gratiot County and the Charles E. Egeler Reception and Guidance Center/Duane L. Waters Health Center in Jackson due to the reported cases of the flu.

Visiting hours also were suspended Tuesday at the Alger Correctional Facility, in the Upper Peninsula community of Munising,  where three cases of the flu have been reported. Two units of Alger's lockups are under quarantine.

In addition, visiting hours have been suspended for Level II prisoners at Kinross Correctional Facility in Kincheloe, due to reported cases of flu there, MDOC spokeswoman Holly Kramer said.

There have been a total of 19 cases confirmed statewide in Michigan prisons, said Kramer. Eleven people have recovered as the restrictions continue.

The actions were taken to "help prevent the further spread of illnesses," she said.

"This is done to help protect the health of both prisoners and visitors, and we may quarantine sick prisoners, suspend visiting hours and limit transfers when there are cases of illness," she said in an email to The News.

"We need to restrict visits once there are two or more confirmed cases of flu, or if health care professionals determine it’s necessary for cases of other illnesses," said Kramer. "We also take additional steps to thoroughly clean and disinfect housing units, common areas and restrooms when cases of illness are present."

Flu shots are offered to inmates at all MDOC facilities.

"We provide prisoners with education on the flu vaccine and encourage them to get one, but the flu shot is voluntary, so it is up to prisoners to decide whether or not they want it," Kramer said.

MDOC has issued regular updates on its website, social media channels and through Nixle, an electronic and mobile notification system, to let potential visitors know when visitation restrictions are put into place and when they are lifted, said Kramer.

Nixle sends out notifications by text message, email, voice message and its mobile app. The service is free to use and can be accessed from MDOC's  facility directory.

Updates are also posted on MDOC's website at www.michigan.gov/corrections.

"We’d also encourage family members to follow the MDOC on Twitter (@MichiganDOC), visit our Facebook page, or check the website before they plan to visit to make sure no restrictions are in place," said Kramer.

The flu season hit earlier and harder this season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 19 million Americans have fallen ill with the flu so far this season, including 180,000 who had to be hospitalized. About 10,000 Americans have died as a result of the flu, including more than 60 children.

Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services, said Wednesday that while the number of flu cases reported at the prisons is not necessarily alarming, she cautioned that the "Influenza can be deadly  ... any flu case can be concerning."

Sutfin encouraged those who have not had flu shots to get them.

"It can still be effective at this late (time) in the season," she said.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2027

Associated Press contributed.

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