Hep C outbreak untested, untreated at Nevada prisons - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU


Hep C outbreak untested, untreated at Nevada prisons

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Cassandra Thomas, pictured, is one of many female inmates lobbying for the state's corrections department for treatment for Hepatitis C. Cassandra Thomas, pictured, is one of many female inmates lobbying for the state's corrections department for treatment for Hepatitis C.

Multiple Nevada prison inmates reached out to FOX5 about what they call a Hepatitis C epidemic inside corrections walls.

Johanna Hudnall is one of those inmates lobbying the Nevada Department of Corrections to treat the disease that she contracted. According to her lawyer and court documents, Hudnall contracted the disease after being sexually assaulted by a prison guard.

“I have a chronic disease, and I don’t want to die here,” Hudnall said.

Hudnall is currently serving time at the Florence McClure Women’s Detention Center in North Las Vegas. Her incarceration stems from burglary and forgery charges. Hepatitis C is a silent killer in Nevada prisons for both men and women, Hudnall said. She even claims Hep C-positive inmates cut, cook and prepare food that the entire prison eats, including prison guards and staff.

“It is everywhere in here. It’s scary. It is very scary,” she expressed.

The disease is extremely aggressive and attacks the liver, causing cirrhosis and eventually liver cancer and death. The treatment to cure Hep C is expensive and, according to the NDOC, costs anywhere between $40,000 and $60,000 per inmate.

Hudnall, though, who is Native American, has offered to pay. Her tribe offered to cover the costs. The NDOC wouldn’t comment on Hudnall’s claims, but she says she has never received the medication.

“I would not begin to speculate as to why they would be unwilling to provide her treatment,” her lawyer, Scott Olifant, said. “Especially, if she can provide the financing.”

Hep C can be spread a variety of ways, from sex, needles and by sharing razors or toothbrushes. Hudnall said it’s being spread through Florence McClure quickly by all those means.

“I don’t know what I can say other than it’s bad. It's really bad,” Hudnall said.

When we began researching Hepatitis C in Nevada prisons, we were also contacted by an inmate named Cassandra Thomas. She too has requested Hepatitis C medication and been denied. For Thomas, her concern is the amount of women who unknowingly have Hep C.

“These girls don’t even know they have a disease and are spreading it within the walls. And, then they’re going back into the community without knowing they have Hep C and spreading it out there,” Thomas said.

We wanted to verify inmates' claims and reached out to the NDOC. In an email, the department states it doesn’t know how many inmates have Hep C, because, unlike HIV/AIDS, it does not test for Hep C. NDOC said outside research estimates upwards of 40 percent of inmates have the disease.

Beyond public health concerns, there are also humanitarian concerns. By not treating or testing for the disease, we are condemning these inmates to death.

“We are still human beings. We are mothers and daughters,” Thomas said through tears.

NDOC said it does not test for Hep C because the law does not require it. A local nonprofit called NV Cure is looking to change that and add legislation that requires Nevada prisons to test for it like HIV.

Olifant said he and Hudnall plan to file suit to get her the medication.

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