Public Health Nurse Prashanta Janz-Navarro recently transported bats found at Sierra Conservation Center to be tested for rabies.

Public Health Nurse Prashanta Janz-Navarro recently transported bats found at Sierra Conservation Center to be tested for rabies.

She’s keeping track of all infectious diseases behind prison walls

A common question people ask a Correctional Public Health Nurse (PHN) is simple, “What do you do?” The answer is anything but simple for Prashanta Janz-Navarro.

“I’ve been asked this question many times this past year within the prison walls,” she said. “‘TB Nurse’ is how the inmates refer to me as I’m the nurse capable of changing their TB status to clear them to go to fire camp.”

PHN Janz-Navarro works at Sierra Conservation Center near Jamestown in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

“Depending on which prison we work in, public health nurses wear many different hats that most people are completely unaware of,” she said. “I’ve started introducing myself as, ‘the nurse who sends out all the memo’s for shingles and scabies,’ since people tend to remember those. My non-medical coworkers refer to me as the ‘cooties nurse’ because of all the potentially contagious diseases I deal with.”

According to PHN Janz-Navarro, these skilled professionals are in charge of keeping track of all infectious diseases within the prison walls.

“HIV, hepatitis, sexually transmitted infections, shingles, scabies, chickenpox, flu, you get the idea – basically anything that you can contract from other people,” she said. “Not only do we keep track of these diseases, we are responsible to make sure all staff and inmates are educated on protocols and procedures if they become exposed.”

The PHNs ensure inmates receive appropriate vaccinations, conduct investigations in cases of exposure, and coordinate treatment options with health care staff.

“Three massive public health tasks each year are organizing and implementing mass testing for valley fever and TB, and administering flu vaccinations,” she said. “As you can tell, there are many areas we PHNs cover, and these are only a few of our duties.”

PHNs sometimes find themselves doing unusual tasks.

“Recently, I personally added a new task to my ever increasing list – transporting bats to the Public Health Department for rabies testing,” she said.

Bats acting strangely draw attention at SCC, sometimes flying into offices in broad daylight.

“Their behavior indicated they may be rabid,” she said. “A rabid animal is one that is affected with rabies. Rabies is a contagious viral infection that can be spread by mammals to humans through saliva. The most common method of rabies transmission to a human is by being bitten by a rabid animal.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats are the main animals that get rabies.

“The directive given to me from the local public health department was to get these bats tested ASAP in order to figure out if we needed to do a rabies investigation and implement the potential treatment series. Custody staff was very helpful in procuring the dead bats for me,” she said.

Once collected and placed on ice, she ran them to a neighboring county to be tested.

“Once the bats were ready for transport, I had one hour to get the bats to the public health department in an entirely different county. Our providers wanted test results on the same day in order to be prepared for any adverse outcomes,” she said. “Public health nurse to the rescue.”

Next, she had to wait.

“Thankfully, the rabies results were called in to me at the end of the day and came back negative,” she said. “It was great news for Sierra Conservation Center and even greater news for me as a public health nurse.”

She said just knowing how far nurses will go to keep people safe is important.

“Public Health Nurses do go above and beyond our daily assigned tasks to make sure exposures of transmissible diseases are kept at a minimum for both staff and inmates, that OSHA compliance is maintained, and that we are your best resource within the walls if there is ever an outbreak,” she said.